In the wake of two years of attacks on South Asians in the area, the universal message among community members is “zero tolerance.”
Township and Middlesex County officials met with concerned residents at North Brunswick’s municipal building on July 13 to discuss the aftermath of the charging of Nyle Kilgore, 24, of North Brunswick, with assaulting men of Indian descent in the Governor’s Point and Colony Oaks neighborhoods over the past 18 months.
“What’s gotten us together is really a terrible biased crime. It’s not acceptable anywhere in the world, but it’s especially not acceptable here in our home. It’s a home for all of us. We’re a community,” Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said at the onset of the meeting.
“We have to stand up as a whole community and say, ‘Not acceptable, not tolerated. We’re one community.’ That’s all it is.”
Although Womack clarified that due to the criminal justice system, details surrounding Kilgore could not and would not be discussed as to not contaminate the case – he has been charged with aggravated assault and bias intimidation by the North Brunswick Police Department – Police Director Kenneth McCormick did mention that the case is complicated because each incident was “very different and very unique” in how it was reported.
He said that one was reported as a neighbor dispute, one was a case of mistaken identity, and in one situation the victim decided not to pursue a suspect.
Also, the suspect had moved during the time of the investigation, he said.
“Not until the very end, was it tied in. It was always the same person with the incidents I am referring to but it was only tied in at the very end,” he said. A packed room of residents, nonetheless, was seeking answers as to why this happened, why it went on for so long, and why their community was being attacked.
To the dismay of many area residents, South Asians have been targeted in Middlesex County for years. Divyendu Sinha, 49, of Old Bridge, was attacked by a group of teenagers as he walked near his home with members of his family in 2010. His two sons sustained minor injuries but Sinha died three days later due to injuries sustained in the assault.
Last year, six suspects from Texas were charged with a string of home invasions that targeted Indian families in Old Bridge, Edison and South Plainfield, allegedly brandishing guns and restraining the families before stealing items.
“If we really, firmly believe that we do not have tolerance for this type of bias, we need to spell it out, let those individuals who are intolerant get the message that in this town, diversity is the name of the town. If you don’t like to be in a diverse town, they should get the message that maybe they should find another place,” resident Dan Patel said. “If this is not their community, find another community so everyone can live in harmony.”
Councilwoman Shanti Narra – a criminal lawyer in New York City who is of Indian descent herself – did speculate the reasons as to why South Asians tend to be attacked: the stereotypes exist that Indians are passive, they love gold and they keep jewelry in their homes.
She said these crimes may not be of just a bias nature, but of an economic one as well.
In addition, Reggie Johnson, the community affairs agent for the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office who attended the meeting, noted that the number one targeted religious group is Jews, and the number one targeted racial group is African Americans.
“But, individually, everyone is a target in one way or another,” he said. “It’s about how it’s being reported.”
Going forward, Womack said the Governor’s Point complex will continue to hire off-duty police officers to patrol the area, as has been in effect for years. He also said there have been additional resources deployed to the area, and a trailer outfitted with a camera will surveil the development.
“We know that for anybody, being able to open your front door, walk your dog, go out and feel safe, is important,” Womack said. “We are using every resource possible to make sure that the town is safe.”
“I assure you that the police presence was continuous before this incident. Continuous. Non-stop. Non-stop. I see them at all times of the day in Governor’s Point. All times of the day,” said resident John Chiappetta, who told the crowd that he walks around the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night since having a total knee replacement in 2011.
“I wouldn’t want my daughter to be hurt if it was unsafe. I would leave. I have been here my whole life. It is a good town,” he said.
The school district will also address the issue of cultural awareness, which Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said is one of the “non-negotiable” pillars for staff and students.
He said that of the 6,400 students enrolled in the district, 28 percent are Asian Indian – the largest population in the schools – 27 percent are white and 45 percent are other minorities such as African American and Hispanic.
“[A]n act of this type of violence and criminal action impacts all of us,” he said. “We have great deal of responsibility – a moral, legal and professional responsibility – to make sure as we look at things, we are looking at things with a multi lens.”
Zychowski said that schools are required to have zero tolerance for racial intolerance.
“We will never compromise and we will never devalue the power of diversity in our schools and in our community,” he said.
In addition, several community-level opportunities are available to keep neighbors safe. McCormick said any groups wanting to start a community watch should call his office, and Narra asked residents to join committees in town to have their voices heard.
In addition, the Junior Police Academy instructs youth on policing each summer. National Night Out on Aug. 4 will be held to foster police-community relations. Heritage Day on Sept. 19 will bring together residents of different cultures to celebrate their uniqueness as well as their togetherness.
Residents also asked for the implementation of a civilian police academy.
“Living in a diverse community makes your life so much richer. And we can’t let things like this hurt us in any way,” Womack said.
For more information about township committees and cultural events, visit northbrunswicknj. gov. To institute a community watch group, call McCormick at 732-247- 0922, ext. 400.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.