Close to Home: The Human Cost of Racist Rhetoric

Close to Home: The Human Cost of Racist Rhetoric February 23, 2017

Early spring in the Midwest means that my neighborhood has been a picturesque snapshot of American virtue lately. Kids riding bikes and playing basketball; families walking and running together on the trail; birdsong and jump ropes and sidewalk chalk; those first brave buds emerging, hoping not to get hammered by a mid-March blizzard.

This is the kind of place where kids walk to school, people run out for an errand and leave their doors unlocked, and if you see a police car in front of a house, it likely means an officer lives there. In other words, not the kind of place where you’d expect a multi-victim shooting at a family restaurant on a weeknight.

But we all know there is no such thing as “not that kind of neighborhood” anymore. Guns are everywhere. Racism is everywhere. And racially-motivated hate crimes? Steadily on the rise.

Last night a man–who I do no know but who, based on what I saw on the news, is my neighbor–opened fire at a local bar and grill. He shot 3 men, 1 of whom has since died from his injuries. Another remains in critical condition. The neighborhood was pretty much on lockdown, with rumors flying fast… Who did this? Why? And of course–did they catch him?? Because who can sleep when there are helicopters circling your house every 5 minutes?

Initially, the only detail that the news had to report was that a former KU football player’s cousin used to work at the restaurant where it happened.

I’m not making that up. A former athlete’s cousin’s previous place of employment. Suuuuuuuper helpful when you’re wondering if it is safe to open the door and let your dog out.


I know folks in the media–reporters, journalists, and producers alike–who are people of great integrity, with incredible gifts of insight and a deep sense of civic duty. So “The Media” is not to blame here. But this insidious tidbit about a semi-famous person’s extremely loose connection to the crime scene just goes to show that our constant craving for more information sometimes yields a bunch of garbage.

And here’s something else worth noting about the reporting last night: One of the first facts to emerge about the shooter–before even his name had been released–was that he suffered from PTSD and “might have” recently received a serious medical diagnosis.

Because when white people commit a crime, there must be a ‘reason.’ Had the shooter been a person of color, I imagine we would have been presented with a decades-old mug shot, and a detailed list of even the most trivial offense.

Maybe he does have PTSD. Maybe he is mentally unstable, maybe he would be a sympathetic character if I knew him in real life.

Or maybe we live in a culture that normalizes violence against people of color. And maybe this is one more story of the human cost of our toxic national discourse.

Probably the second thing is more true. Because here is the rest of the story, as it emerged this morning… The shooter– Adam Purinton–before he committed this crime, was drinking at the bar, hurling racial slurs and harassing two of the patrons. He was also reported as saying “get out of my country” a couple of times.

A young man named Ian Grillot–a regular at the bar– interceded. Adam then got a gun from his car, and came back in to shoot all three men.

He fled on foot–which is why officers had his house surrounded for the next several hours. But as it happened, Adam made it to Clinton, Missouri, about 90 miles away. Where he went into an Applebee’s and ordered a drink. And proceeded to tell the bartender that he had just “shot a couple of Muslims,” and needed a place to hide out. The bartender promptly called police, and Purinton was arrested.

Can we talk about how many things are going on here? First of all, that you could shoot 3 men in cold blood, and then casually go order yourself a cocktail… And furthermore, that you could have the wherewithal to flee across state lines–but feel perfectly comfortable confiding to the bartender that you’d just “shot a couple of Muslims.”

I’m guessing that bartender was white. And so, it would appear to a man like Purinton, an ally in ridding the world of a few more dangerous foreigners.

But in fact, the victims–Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla–were from India. Permanent residents of the U.S., both engineers at nearby Garmin. I can’t speak to their faith affiliation but I’m guessing they were not Muslims. I’m guessing that, to someone like Purinton, they were just brown enough and foreign enough to look Muslim, and that was threatening enough. They committed the crime of being “not from here.” And in the current political climate, that is a dangerous thing to be.

I’m going to check my privilege here and recognize that, while my little corner of the suburbs may have been on high alert last night, folks in other parts of the Kansas City metro live with this kind of violence every day. The helicopters, the caution tape, the flashing lights and the overnight body count. It’s a daily thing. Violence is not new. Racism is not new. Micro-agressions in the media are not new.

What is new–and alarming–is that people like Adam Purinton now have friends in places of great power. Yes, he may represent a minority of the population–unstable and ready to snap–but the racist, xenophobic sentiment he expressed in this act of violence is no longer a worldview relegated to back rooms and backwoods and the dark web. Someone like Adam already hates anyone who doesn’t look like him; he sees any foreigner as highly suspect and harbors deep resentment for the growing diversity of America. The difference is that people like him now find affirmation in the law of the land.

This is the human cost of having a racist demagogue for a President, and a known white supremacist as his closest advisor. You cannot separate the words they speak, and the policies they write, from the actions of the violent fringe. For every thousand normal people who dismiss the rhetoric as political posturing, there is an Adam Purinton, just waiting for an invitation. Waiting for the subtle nudge-wink from the establishment, an affirmation of his darkest fears and permission to go ahead and do something about it. Make America great again.

The fearful climate in which we find ourselves has been brewing for centuries–it was not created by the current administration, and cannot be undone overnight. But if there were more Ian Grillots in the world, it would sure make a difference. I hope that what happened to him will not deter the rest of us from speaking out just as bravely when we witness hateful rhetoric playing out in real time. We keep saying “this is not ok.” “This is not normal.” “This is not my America.”

We can also contribute to Ian Grillot’s recovery fund.

Or support Alok Madasani, also still recovering; and the family of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who passed away.

Or order one of these cool signs for your yard. (If you live in my area, I’ll go pick yours up for you. I would love to see one on every corner of this neighborhood in the weeks to come)

And every single day, you can tell your elected officials, at every level, that their scapegoating of immigrants and people of color has got to stop. Tell them that such discourse has real life, human consequences, far beyond the podiums from which they speak. Tell them that these are your neighbors they are talking about. Tell them their words are not just words–language has consequences, and sometimes they hurt people way too close to home.

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