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Does political graffiti send messages or is it simply vandalism?

By: Chuck Bolinger

Is a name scratched in a car’s paint more than just vandalism? Is the president-elect’s name just graffiti or is it a racist message? Sudhir Avirneni, who lives in a subdivision near Hwy. 141 and Clayton Road in Town & Country, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the damage potentially carries racial undertones.

Avirneni found “Trump” etched into his car’s paint Nov. 13. He said he felt targeted for the first time since moving to the United States 20 years ago. He conceded it could just be “teenage crap” but he, his wife and his neighbors are not certain.

What is certain is that everything has not settled nationally, or locally since Nov. 8. There have been multiple protests in cities across the country, some of which became violent. Schools and universities have noticed a rise in slurs, insults and attacks against minorities.

Locally this week, two students in the Ladue School District were disciplined after allegedly chanting “Trump!” repeatedly on a school bus and telling African American students to sit in the back of the bus. The incident brought a rush of parents and patrons to the district’s board meeting Nov. 15, where citizen speakers claim other, similar incidents have happened. More than 150 students staged a protest Nov. 16, walking from the high school to the nearby administration building, where they demanded to see the superintendent.

Unlike Avirneni, Sudhir Brahmbhatt, president of Bal Vihar of St. Louis, said what happened in Town & Country is an isolated incident and no one should generalize based on this one occurrence.

Bal Vihar is a nonprofit cultural school to foster Indian culture in children ages 5 and older. Since its inception, Bal Vihar students have performed community service projects to give back to the community. Children as young as five participate each year. Younger children participate in food and clothing drives while the older children volunteer at food pantries, soup kitchens, on summer projects and maintain the Hindu Temple grounds. Children have volunteered at Circle of Concern, Missouri Baptist Hospital, Missouri School for the Blind, Our Little Haven, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and supported troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Democracy means freedom of speech, expressing views and, of course, not damaging any property or hurting anybody,” he said. “America is a democratic country and the collective peoples’ view chose the leader. Things happen for a reason and we all have to accept, move on and support the new leader, hoping he will do the best for our country and our people.”

Capt. Robert Arthur, public information officer for the Town & Country Police Department, said the incident remains under investigation. Detectives have spoken to neighbors and are viewing any applicable surveillance video to retrace the vandal’s steps. However, Arthur said there is no indication that the homeowner was targeted and he incident appears to be isolated.

According to July 2015 population figures from www.census.gov, there are more than 42,000 Asians in St. Louis County. Many of them reside in Town & Country, Clarkson Valley, Chesterfield and Creve Coeur.

Brahmbhatt said there is a Hindu saying, “Vasudevam Kutumbkam,” which means “Whole World is One Family.” He offered advice for us to move forward.

“Our children need to be taught to respect all faiths as there are reasons why these faiths exist and remind children that religion or faith is for the betterment of life,” he said. “Political leaders do not need to mix religion with politics for personal gain. It has been obvious based on some incidents in our country, especially in high schools, where children of certain faiths and colors believe themselves superior to others. Talents that our country needs do not reside in one particular faith or religion. Let us all work together and offer our best talents to support our leaders to succeed.”



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