The unbecoming conduct of the presidential campaign is awful enough to watch at a distance. Harder still is seeing it inspire bigotry, incivility and perhaps even violence in our community – a city made strong by its respect for individual rights and responsibility and even stronger by its increasing diversity.
Yet, regrettably, Wichita is making national headlines this week for an incident early Saturday at the KwikShop at 21st and Oliver that’s being investigated by the Wichita Police Department as a hate crime.
Khondoker Usama, who is a senior and the student government vice president at Wichita State University, said he and a Hispanic friend were variously punched, pushed and kicked by a white motorcyclist who called them “brown trash,” told them to “go home,” and shouted taunts such as “Trump, Trump, Trump, we will make America great again.”
Usama said his friend, who had facial bruising, had intervened when they saw the motorcyclist shout racial epithets at an African-American man asking for gas money.
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As described, the deplorable incident further confirms that GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s divisive, nativist talk is finding an audience willing to not only vote for him but also target Muslims and ethnic minorities for verbal abuse and even violence.
Unfortunately, the Wichita altercation isn’t all that unexpected.
Tensions increased amid last fall’s controversy over the removal of pews from WSU’s interfaith chapel. Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn’s anti-Islamic comments from the bench exemplified and seemingly sanctioned intolerant rhetoric.
Usama described to the Washington Post being asked by a Trump supporter at a party last fall for his “Muslim ID,” so the person could know whether Usama was a “good Muslim.”
Before and during the GOP caucus March 5 at Century II, protesters reported being targeted for racial slurs and told to go home.
A recent Washington Post profile of WSU senior Maira Salim further revealed Wichita to be insensitive to Islamic traditions such as the hijab. Salim’s wearing of the head scarf draws stares, questions and worse, the Post reported: “One day she was at a traffic light when a woman rolled down her window and screamed, ‘Go back to your own country.’ Nothing like that had ever happened before. The woman drove on while Maira sat there, scared and then angry, wishing she had yelled back that she was in her own country.” (Salim has lived in Wichita since she was 2.)
It is the behavior of those who would tell Muslim Americans and people of color to “go home” that has no place in Wichita. Wichitans who look away from what’s been going on risk encouraging more intolerance and hate.