Nitin Shah has hired a security guard for one week to keep his San Francisco Bay Area multi-apartment property secure from any possible vandalism around the presidential election. Concerned about violence and civil unrest, he has given rent incentives to a few of his tenants to be vigilant and take steps to keep ‘bad elements’ out.
A real estate developer, Shah owns multiple properties in the East Bay Area, a few miles from Oakland, a city which saw active and violent Black Lives Matter protests.
Shah did not receive help from law enforcement teams when his apartment complex was vandalised multiple times in the last four months.
“People who are underprivileged, the homeless, entered my property and hid in storage and laundry areas. They broke into vacant apartments. The police didn’t help us remove them. We have to help ourselves, in case there is any violence in the next few days,” Shah told The Quint.
‘Scary, Dangerous, Guns, Violent’: Words On Indian-Americans’ Minds
Bay Area cities’ police teams are aware that this is not a usual election year and have increased staff and security measures, beyond what they have done on election days in the past. SFPD has cancelled all vacation days for two weeks. Every San Francisco police officer will be on duty on election night. Oakland Police Department has increased staffing to address safety concerns and facilitate peaceful demonstrations or gatherings.
Officials are planning for what lies ahead as the election results start coming in. What lies ahead is what no one really knows.
Indian-Americans do not know what to expect, and not knowing is causing anxiety. Scary, Dangerous, Violent, Unsure, Guns, Unrest, Coup – are the words being used in conversations between families and friends.
Biggest Fear? A Close Election Might Lead To Violence Even In Peaceful Suburbs
Months leading up to the election have seen news reports of voter suppression, fake mail ballots, white supremacist groups on stand-by, armed protests and vandalism. Pictures of trucks with Confederate flags and bumper stickers that say ‘Make America Beautiful, Kill a Liberal’ on social media, and news of Trump supporters blocking a New Jersey highway, have created a place of fear and worry.
California is a strong Democratic state, and its suburbs are among the most peaceful in the US. Many Bay Area desis feel that the elections will pass without any violence in their suburban neighbourhoods. But the breakdown of political discourse seen in this election cycle, and the aftermath of Trump possibly not relinquishing the White House, have some Indian-Americans concerned.
The biggest fear is that a close and contested election might lead to weeks of uncertainty which can spiral into violence, even in the suburbs.
‘How Should We, Desis, Prepare For A Coup-Like Situation?’
“One hundred percent,” feels Software Entrepreneur and Bay Area resident Sathya Bathula. “One hundred percent, there will be disturbances. White supremacists and the KKK have guns. Even in California, it is possible. People should stay at home and not get into trouble.”
“How should we, desis, prepare ourselves for a ‘coup’ situation, incase Trump starts to feel that he is going down,” was my friend Sandhya’s text message to me.
Her thoughts: “It’s more the fear of the unknown – that we might be unaware of groups that might behave in an unruly manner. It’s just that we don’t know them,” are being echoed by some Indian-Americans in the Bay Area.
“Americans are not spiritually trained to deal with this. One can’t be so swayed by one person being in office or not. All the power is given to one person, instead of the party,” says Theatre Arts & Education Specialist, and San Francisco resident Dr Radhika Rao. She is chanting for a safe political transition.
Businesses Boarded Up, South Asian Places Of Worship On High Alert
In a conversation about South Asians and minorities, Drew University’s political scientist Dr Sangay Mishra expressed:
"“Politics is very polarised around racial lines. 2016 onwards, Trump has spoken a language which people are reacting to. People’s reactions are a product of racial polarisation along with political polarisation. We can’t say how Trump will react if he loses. It might be that all this is a bluff, and it will be so overwhelming for him that he might not react at all. But people are anticipating disturbance.”"
Businesses in many Bay Area cities had locked up and covered their exterior glass windows with plywood, during the weeks of mass protests following George Floyd’s murder. October saw many businesses open up as the number of new daily corona infections fell. Seeing them being boarded up again is a sign of bracing up for possible post-election violent confrontations.
South Asian places of worship are also aware of security risks.
The Sikh Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group, sent out this message through gurdwaras in US and via their website:
"“Regardless of the outcome, it is likely that tensions between Americans will run high for some time. As the Sikh American community knows, when national tensions run high, it can have profoundly negative and dangerous consequences for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and other marginalised groups. For this reason, the Sikh Coalition urges vigilance and caution for every Sikh household in the United States before, during, and after Election Day.”"Mass Fear & A Gun-Buying Spree
When Americans are concerned about their personal security, they purchase firearms. It is a recognised fact that most desis prefer to not own a personal weapon, and are proud of their ‘peace loving’ identity. Some Indian-Americans who chose to buy a gun this year, amidst concerns about the virus, economy and racial injustice related protests, are glad that they have one for self defence.
I called a local Silicon Valley gun store to understand the process of acquiring a gun. I was told that there are no small, personal defence weapons available. They have been sold out for three weeks now.
“There has been a rush on guns due to concern about anarchists. Folks who want their hands on a gun are not in luck today.” This is in California which is considered a ‘restrictive’ state for fire arms. I do not plan to own a gun, ever.
There are more guns in private hands this year. On an average, daily sales of guns in US is in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 per day. This shot up as soon as the COVID-related emergency was announced, to 176,000 on 16 March. The onset of Black Lives Matter protests started another surge in firearm sales, reaching 150,000 per day on 2 and 3 June. In just the first six months of 2020, approximately 19 million guns have been sold, which amounts to more than one firearm for every 20 Americans. There were an estimated 1.8 million gun sales this September, an increase of 66 percent from September 2019, according to ‘Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting’ data.
‘Don’t Open The Door To Strangers’: How Desis Are Gearing Up For Potential Election Aftermath
Indian-Americans are very aware that there are more guns than people in the United States – 400m for a population of 330m.
Hence the fear that if Trump stubbornly does not accept defeat, the election results can become litigious, and aggressive right-wing groups of folks might try to take matters into their own hands.
Resulting protests by democratic supporters can become violent too. Many families are speaking about being extra careful for the next few days. The desi plans are: ‘be cautious for the next few days’, ‘wait and watch’, ‘best to take precaution’, ‘don’t open the door to strangers’.
.Indian-Americans also realise that they cannot do much more to keep safe than stay at home for a few days. Along with that they have to trust the law enforcement to keep them safe
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.)
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