Last week a man in Salem, Oregon was charged with assault, intimidation and unlawful use of a weapon after he yelled at an employee working in a Middle Eastern restaurant, “go back to your country, terrorist” and then attacked him with a plastic pipe.
The alleged assailant, Jason Kendall, 52, later told police that he struck the worker in order to free a woman in the restaurant that he believed was abducted, because, kidnapping people, “that is what Arabs do,” he said, according to a probable cause statement reported by the Statesman Journal.
He added, her shirt was a “signal” to him that she was being kept a slave. He was on a “warrior’s path” to free her. When he saw the “Saddam Hussein looking guy” in the restaurant, he stood up and said to the woman she was “free to leave.”
But she did not leave and Kendall exited the restaurant, grabbed an “evil totem” with Arabic script on it (the plastic pipe), and hit the man in his head, so the Statesman and other newspapers reported.
What was not reported, is that restaurant is my family’s restaurant, the man who was attacked is my father, and the woman Kendall was supposedly trying to “free,” she is my mother.
I believe it important to be as transparent as possible and speak out about this incident. Therefore, I have given myself some time to put my fears and frustrations about the attack and every aspect about it into consideration. In all honesty, it is much easier to speak out and condemn such an attack, when it’s not so personal. There is nothing more personal than an attack on the people you love most; it is more personal than an attack on yourself. However, as serious as this attack was, it wasn’t as dramatic as the media portrayed it.
Jason Kendall first came into our restaurant to rummage in a corner where old magazines were placed. He did not first come in yelling like the reports stated. He has come into our restaurant before, just like many of the homeless in the area have, and my family has fed him before like they have for others in similar financial and housing situations similar to Jason Kendall.
In fact, my parents are known for feeding and aiding many of those in need in the area, and many of their patrons leave extra money to aid in this feeding after they’ve witnessing this. The unbelievable support and love we have received from the community after this incident testifies to that.
However, this time while my father was alone and already upset about a personal matter, he became frustrated with Kendall for making a mess with the magazines, and yelled at him to leave. Kendall left, but later returned while my mother was there. He came in dressed as a warrior, with a cloth wrapped around his waist, a heavy plastic brochure holder (like the ones often put next to cash registers), and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He did start yelling, “Come here you Arab” and “I want to beat him up” among other derogatory and threatening statements while jumping around as if he were a ninja.
My parents were not scared. They were frustrated with him, and my mother and father were attempting to calm him and telling him to just leave, since they were feeling he was acting delusional. My father did not want to hurt him even in self-defense. All the while he was telling my mother, “you step to the side, I don’t want you, I want him” and told her she could leave. He then threw the plastic object at my father, and my father blocked it with his arm. Still, it hit a corner of the front of his head. Again, the pipe was not pounded against my father’s skull like the news reported it.
It’s difficult to admit that this white male did, in fact, commit this attack out of mental illness, because it has become way too convenient in this country to say that when a white male attacks a person of color it is because he suffers from some mental health issues.
Understanding this entire situation and the actions that were acted out throughout the attack has made it more than apparent Jason Kendall does indeed suffer from a mental illness. His statements, actions and the way he demonstrated them were of delusion. I am in no way condoning his racism by saying it is part of the illness, nor is his illness an excuse for his bigotry, because most people who suffer from mental illness don’t act out like this.
That is why I can wholeheartedly say I don’t want this to be considered a hate crime, I want this to be called what it is: a man with some serious mental health issues.
I’m more saddened by the fact that this man may potentially face time in prison than the attack he carried out itself. Yes, I am worried about the man who attacked my mother and father in our place of business. My reasons for this are much larger than a problem within our community; it’s a problem within our country and our prison industrial system. Our prison systems are what I’m worried about for this man, for my family, and for this society. It’s a blatant fact less than 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the U.S., yet we have around 22 percent of the world’s total prison population, as reported by the Washington Post, adding, “A heart-breaking truth is that part of this increase is due to a widespread failure to treat mental illness.”
In 1955 mental hospitals had 558,922 patients, according to a report in the Washington Post that noted the number dropped to 35,000 in 2015. The Post explained part of the reduction in patients was likely because of an increase in incarcerated persons with mental illness.
“For various reasons, these community treatment plans proved inadequate, leaving many of the mentally ill homeless or in jail. According to the Department of Justice, about 15 percent of state prisoners and 24 percent of jail inmates report symptoms meet the criteria for a psychotic disorder,” the Post reported.
“Unsurprisingly, many prisons are poorly equipped to properly deal with mental illness. Inmates with mental illnesses are more likely than other to be held in solitary confinement, and many are raped, commit suicide, or hurt themselves,” the Post continued.
The Huffington Post also covered this in a report earlier this year that found a quarter of incarcerated Americans have mental illnesses.
“We also know that mental illness didn’t suddenly disappear just because long-term psychiatric care went the way of the dinosaur. No, the mentally ill still exist, and in fact often end up institutionalized. But that institution is no longer a hospital, it’s a prison,” reported the Huffington Post.
This entire situation and the attention it is receiving through the media and even from U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley who stated on social media, “#MuslimBan has unleashed a scary wave of hate crimes. Infuriated by this example in Salem. We must stand vs. hatred,” is what has led me to use my platform.
This should be addressed on a larger scale and used to address the root cause of this so-called crime. Throwing people with mental illness in the spotlight as the perpetrators of crime and as the poster children for hate crimes, while ignoring the many other incidents where white supremacist are still able to terrorize people of color with no accountability or punishment, isn’t how we make a stance against hatred. I want total accountability from our officials to be taken and the policies they put in place to actually help people like Jason Kendall to not have to suffer in our prison systems, and not to come out worse than they went in, and harm families like mine. I want police brutality against Black people, against all people of color, and people with mental illness to be taken into accountability and recognized.
I will not allow you to tokenize me and my family and the man who made them victims all while ignoring the families and people whose dire fates fall on the policies you enforce. You cannot pick and choose who deserves punishment, and who deserves to be a victim.