More than 100 people attended a Unity Gathering in Sunnyvale, California, to show solidarity with the Muslim community and in support of the eight pedestrians injured along with a 13-year-old Indian American girl put into coma in late April after a man allegedly intentionally drove his car into a crowd of people because he thought they were Indian or Muslim.
“It’s a chance for people to come together and basically hear and how we move forward,” Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein told indica. “When the incident first happened, we thought it’s an accident, but there were investigations, and they found out it was done on purpose, we might not like it but it was intentional.”
The city of Sunnyvale, California, in partnership with various interfaith community organizations hosted the Wednesday event, including the Islamic Networks Group (ING), Asian Law Alliance, Chung Tai Zen Center, Hindu American Foundation, Islamic Networks Group, Faith in Action Bay Area, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Sikh Coalition and Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN).
On the evening of April 23, Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, of Sunnyvale, an Iraq War veteran who was armed, allegedly tried to kill the Indian family by hitting them with his Toyota Corolla while the family was crossing the street at the intersection of El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue in Sunnyvale.
Peoples, who was being held at the Santa Clara County Main Jail without bail, will face two hate crime allegations in addition to eight counts of attempted murder, according to prosecutors. The hate crime charges were filed May 30, and was confirmed District Attorney’s spokesperson Sean Webby.
“Prejudice is not harmless. Someone’s child is in critical condition today because of someone’s ignorance and hatred,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement Thursday. “So today, we stand with her and her family, and all of our Muslim and Indian neighbors. We will be steadfast in our work to hold this person criminally responsible for the pain and destruction his abhorrent act has caused the eight people he struck, and our entire community.”
Klein on learning Peoples was a local man said, “I would have never thought this could happen in Sunnyvale, a city where we celebrate our diversity.”
Klein said people from different backgrounds and ethnicities strengthen the city and decided to host the event dialogue, hoping for some positive impact by bringing together multiple faith leaders and to speaking with the victims’ families.
“The incident has impacted the Indian American community. The Indian parents in our community were saying they were afraid to let their children out in the neighborhood,” said Klein, however, lauding the parents of Dhriti the victim, who has been in a coma for over a month. The mayor said her father Rajesh Narayan says, “The hatred of one man shouldn’t affect and disintegrate the community.”
So, hatred has no place in our community and the event is to what steps we can take and offer.”
He also believes people too often stay to their own and with their family, so they have to focus on locally educating people on what is good in the community and why diversity and inclusiveness are so important while figuring out how to move forward.
Sharing about Dhriti, who finally had opened her eyes but cannot speak or move, said he has met and talked with her parents and even celebrated Holi festival with them last year.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said on seeing Dhriti’s condition.
Maha Elgenaidi, executive director of Islamic Networks Group and one of the hosts of the dialogue told indica she thinks the case is horrific. Elgenaidi believes President Trump’s rhetoric too played a role in the attack.
“I don’t think this is an isolated incident. I think that Muslims have been experiencing hate all over the country, and the California Justice Department showed 24 percent increase in hate crime in 2017,” Elgenaidi said. “I think Muslims are experiencing an increased rate of hate crime right now. I think it’s part of the pattern we are seeing across the country and now in the Bay Area as well, “ she said, adding that the increase has been particularly evident after 9/11.
“I think it always existed in the United States, and we began to record after 9/11, and what we have been experiencing since Trump came in the office, it has increased, further,” she said.
Hoping that the Unity Gathering and ongoing dialog would be helpful, Elgenaidi said, “I think so when people see this kind of work happening, they now understand that no one is isolated. That we are all together. It prevents discrimination, bullying and brings the community together.”