26 August 2007

The Satender Singh Case

On 1 July 2007 Satender Singh was attacked in an alleged hate crime at Lake Natoma, California. While the Fijian-native desi was dancing and hanging out with friends at a park, he was approached by two Russian-speaking men, now identified as Aleksandr Shevchenko and Andrei Vusik. Shevchenko and Vusik were reported to be taunting Singh with racist and homophobic comments, before Vusik punched Singh in the face, knocking him to the ground. Singh suffered trauma to the back of his head and died 5 July from this injury.

This Wednesday, Shevchenko, 21, pled not guilty in Sacramento Superior Court and is free on a $25,000 bail. Vusik, the 29-year-old accused of throwing the fatal punch, is still at-large, presumably in Russia. While officials are attempting to locate Vusik abroad, they will likely face problems with Russia’s constitutional prohibition on the extradition of Russian citizens (although it is unclear if Vusik is a Russian citizen).

Further complicating this case, Mr. Vusik’s family is now defending him, claiming that Singh provoked the attack with his dances and that Singh was the first to start with gay taunts. Additionally, it has been asserted that the case has been used by gay activists to drum up attention for their cause. This last justification alludes to a long-standing tension between Slavic Pentecostals and the gay community over the former’s anti-homosexual protests, a history alluded to in a Sacramento Bee editorial that emphasizes that this case, however, cannot be a trial of an entire religious group. (See below for some complications of this line.)

(I will note here, that among the taunts aimed at Singh was “7-11,” according to one witness. I am now officially waiting for Matt Groening to send an apology to Singh’s friends and family. Matt, what do you say? And I will not accept allusions to Satyajit Ray or the "just lampooning" line as defense anymore, sorry.)

Surprisingly, this event has received little national or international coverage beyond the Asian-American and LGBT blogospheres. (For instance, there’s nothing to be found in the New York Times or even the Los Angeles Times; NPR is one exception.) The case first came to my attention when a friend posted a link here to the story at Angry Asian Man. SALDEF also made a strong statement on the case. And the Sepia Mutineers have been thorough in their updates over the past two months. Amongst the English-language LGBT sites covering the affair is Towleroad (“A Site with Homosexual Tendencies”).

With the elements in play—an alleged hate crime involving two distinct diasporic communities, a possibly difficult extradition from Russia, bigotry propagated by religion, and accusations involving a “gay mafia”—you’d think all the essentials for a real media event were present. And while waiting for such a shitstorm (there’s no better word for the punditizing and O’Reillification that I expected) over the past few weeks, I’ve been skimming the Russian-language blogosphere, as I assumed that even if Americans turned a deaf ear to the case, Russians—with that particular brand of persecuted nationalism and homophobia you find amongst all the worst livejournal users on RUNET—would be all over it. Especially since the Vusik family seemed to be pandering to this crowd with their cocktail of victimized good Russians, a homosexual menace (there were children present!) and the perversions of American justice.

In fact, a casual perusal of blogs and newspapers evinces an interesting mish-mash of responses. Typically bloggers cite the coverage in the diasporic newspaper Novoe Russkoe Slovo, which actually highlights the history of Slavic Pentecostal “hooliganism” and harassment of the LGBT community at bars and clubs, contra the SacBee’s “moderate” stance. Gay-radio.ru also points up the rabid homophobia among the leadership of the Pentecostal church in Russia. Bluesystem.ru and the Russian-language antidogma community on livejournal echo this concern, with users on the latter indicating “This is why I minimize contacts with the Russian community” and “’Homophobia is on the rise among immigrants from the former Soviet Union.’—You’re telling me….they’re the most homophobic group in this country.” It was such a pleasant surprise to NOT find what I was expecting. The bonehead brigades, thus far, have not picked up on the case, though I'm keeping an ear to the ground and will keep you posted.

The only folks who seem to be falling for the line the Vusik family offers is diasporanews.com (“Slavic Community Newspaper”), based out of Sacramento. These jokers have the gumption to run an article entitled “Tragedy at a Picnic” with this lead: “A trifling punch has led to a tragic chain of consequences: as a result of a clash between two ethnic groups relaxing at Lake Natoma in Sacramento Satender Singh, an immigrant from Fiji, has died and our countryman Andrei Vusik, accused of his murder, may not see freedom for many years, nor will he see his wife and children. That said, this conflict has already separated him from his family and mother: at the moment, Andrei is back home [na rodine] and, by all accounts, is not preparing to return to Sacramento.”

What’s crazier than that? The picture, to the left, they ran with the article and the interview with Vusik’s wife, Tatiana. Ms. Vusik, who must be working on a doctorate in “digging myself deeper,” is quoted asking, “I only want to ask all men: what would you do in the place of my husband, if, before your eyes, your wife, sister, or daughter was abused?” Men, while thinking up your answers, please recall that the offenses were described by Ms. Vusik herself as “erotic dancing,” “tongue-kissing,” and “making sexual movements.” You might send your answers to her care of the editor at: Diaspora; 4555 Auburn Blvd., Suite F, Sacramento, CA 95841.

You could even CC the Sacramento Bee in an open letter at: P.O.Box 15779; Sacramento, CA 95852 or http://www.sacbee.com/sendletter..

It would be a nice counterpoint to the ridiculous letters to the editor sent by the International Slavic Pastor’s Council and American Heritage Foundation that also try to beat the “Clash of Civilizations” drums. (Just be sure not to beat these drums yourself in your letters, O’kei?)

If this case doesn’t have you depressed enough about racial violence in today’s world, you might read up on the attacks on Indians and Africans in Germany. Or another beating of a California desi. And closer to home (my current home, that is), to keep you all abreast: in addition to the well-publicized internet-circulated video of the execution of a Dagestani and a Tadzhik, this month witnessed the racially-motivated beating of an ethnic Korean in Novosibirsk, the stabbing of a Dagestani at Izmailovskii Park in Moscow, attacks on Afghan, Chinese, and Tadzhik citizens in Moscow, and a Georgian, beaten unconscious, left for dead and thankfully found hanging onto life three days later.


Gabriel said...

I find this blog most informative of life currently in Russia...Some of you may be interested in my blog from Ireland which contains an article linling to a lot of Soviet Music..

I would like to invite your readers in Russia and elsewhere to view my blog ‘An Unrepentant Communist


Greetings to you all from County ’ Kerry in Ireland!

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Gabriel, It's nice to know that people are reading the blog and thanks for the links.

lizzyb said...

I'm actually not too surprised that this story has not been picked up by the O'Reilly-stylers in the U.S. It's just a little too embarrassing. And it presents evidence that strays a little too obviously from both the "Christians love the sinner, they just hate the sin" line of rhetoric and the "Gays don't need 'special' civil rights; they're protected just like everyone else" line of rhetoric.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Maybe my culture-o-meter is a little off, having been gone for the past two months, but I don't recall ever having the sense that O'Reilly had a "This is too embarassing" shut-off button. If anything, his ratings DEPEND on it.

That the higher-ups and GOP folks are avoiding it maybe makes more sense.

p.s. sorry that my recent comments box is apparently malfunctioning and not posting all new comments. that's what I get with a free web tool, I guess.

Soularis said...

Um, actually AntiDogma is not a "North American diasporic" community at all :) it is mostly targeted at citizens of Russia and former USSR, however we do have some folks from Europe, USA and Israel.

My name is Ruslan Porshnev, I'm the maintainer of AntiDogma.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Ruslan, Thanks for the correction. I think that particular thread confused me with all the US/Canadian contributors, but I take your point. I'll fix the post in a minute.

By the way, thanks for maintaining such a great community. I appreciated paging through it while researching this piece and bookmarked it. Some truly important conversations take place there and it's a great place to pick up razgovornyi Russian from people with interesting opinions and experiences.

W. Shedd said...

Most of the news about this event appears to be from local television stations, etc.

I think it didn't make the national news wires because we Americans don't really like admitting that we aren't always the melting pot that we mythologize. We're sometimes bigoted and often violent.

I'm particularly reminded of this whenever I read about hate-crime statistics in Russia. I did a little bit of research on hate crime statistics, and as violent as Russia can be, it appears that the US is little better.

You have a good blog, I've had you linked for a while now but I should make a point of stopping by more often.

Anonymous said...

LANA said... The story'Singh Case' it's targeted Europian people, it's dickrimination. You will find Russian people are nice, respectful,honest; best people of USA. We can find any crime, problems in any society, any nations, countries.