A Kansas man is being hailed as a hero across India, but many Americans haven’t heard as much about him -- certainly not from our country’s leaders.
I’ve made it a point to tell my children about Ian Grillot.
Grillot, who is 24 years old, had planned to watch a University of Kansas basketball game last week with friends in an Olathe, Kansas bar when he heard a gunman start shooting. He dove under a table and waited until he thought 51-year-old Adam Purinton had emptied his magazine. Then he chased Purinton down and tried to stop him.
Purinton opened fire on him.
Grillot was shot through the hand and in the chest. The gunman had also shot two Indian men, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring Alok Madasani, both engineers working for Garmin. Purinton reportedly told the two men, who he thought were Iranian, to “get out of my country” before opening fire.
The FBI is investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Monday, “India salutes the heroism of Ian Grillot!” Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said it is “absurd” to link the shooting to Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, which includes a travel ban on seven countries, including Iran.
That rhetoric might have been a factor, or it might not -- until further information comes out, it’s impossible to say, although the shooter’s reported use of racial slurs demonstrates an animosity toward nonwhites. Either way, a government’s statements matter, and its actions matter even more. It’s our government’s responsibility to protect all its citizens.
In less than two weeks, two Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized, two Indian men shot and a mosque burned in Florida.
After weeks of criticism of being slow to comment on the rising number of anti-Semitic threats, President Donald Trump said in his address to Congress, “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
When our leaders speak out against a rising tide of bigotry, our children hear those messages on their social media feeds and it reaffirms our collective values. It helps heal the wounds of a community to hear its fears and pain acknowledged. It’s also a chance to highlight the best among us. There are extraordinary heroes like Ian Grillot, along with communities of all faiths coming out to repair Jewish cemeteries and ordinary citizens scrubbing away swastikas drawn on public places.
The evil ideologies of the KKK and neo-Nazis and those influenced by them will not go unchallenged. Muslims have raised money to repair Jewish cemeteries, and Jews have donated to rebuild the burned mosque. Given how frequently Trump has tweeted on topics that have moved him, such as “Saturday Night Live” and Nordstrom, it would be great to see him similarly moved by Americans taking care of one another.
Telling these stories sends a message to those who want to divide us: You can’t. In fact, we’ve united even stronger.
We need heroes like Ian Grillot. We need smaller acts of bravery, like standing up for a classmate or co-worker, just as much. I don’t know if I would ever have the courage to take a bullet for a stranger being attacked. But it doesn’t take much effort for me to share a story with my children or friends, click a button to donate to a cause or reach out to those who may be personally affected by a possible hate crime.
When I heard about the gravestones desecrated in a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery, I wanted my children to know that we would donate to help repair them. We gave through LaunchGood, the same Muslim organization that had also raised funds for African-American churches targeted by arsonists in the South.
Our actions speak loudest, which is why our elected officials should be targeting all domestic threats, including violent white supremacists.
When someone attacks our principles of equality and freedom for all, they’ve attacked every single one of us. If we truly care about American values, we don’t just speak up when when our ethnic group, our religion or our friends get attacked.
If your sympathy or outrage is reserved only for crimes targeting your own community, that doesn’t make you a patriot.
That makes you a hypocrite.