Editorial: To be truly great, America must be kind

Widow of Austins Bar & Grill shooting victim speaks

Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, spoke publicly about her husband last month at Garmin, where Kuchibhotla was employed.
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Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, spoke publicly about her husband last month at Garmin, where Kuchibhotla was employed.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the India-born engineer killed in an Olathe bar last week, was not only a top-of-his-class immigrant who helped boost our economy.

No, Mr. Kuchibhotla, who was allegedly shot by a slurring man tossing off racial slurs, was also the sort of man we must not just mourn but emulate at this overheated moment.

A relative described 32-year-old Kuchibhotla as “the kindest person you would meet...He never uttered a word of hatred, a simple gossip, or a careless comment.” With hatred on the upswing, gossip a thriving business and careless comments a recipe for social media success, this gentleness and generosity of spirit set him apart.

To honor his memory, could we try making America kind again?

An America that is not respectful of those who are different or tolerant of those who disagree can never be truly great. Or truly American, for that matter.

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George H.W. Bush’s “kinder, gentler nation,” Bill Clinton’s “putting people first,” George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and Barack Obama’s “change we can believe in” all aspired to moral excellence. And even when we’ve fallen short, we’ve never forgotten how much that kind of greatness matters.

Another important example is that of 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who first stood up for Kuchibhotla and his friend Alok Madasani as the suspect maligned them at Austins Bar & Grill. Then, after the two men were at shot, Grillot pursued the man and his gun, hoping to prevent any more harm. In that he did not succeed. Grillot, too, was shot, though he and Madasani thankfully survived. “He’s always one to defuse stuff,” an Austins employee said of Grillot.

Are we?

Madasani’s distraught father, Madasani Jaganmohan Reddy, told the Hindustan Times in India that “I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the U.S. in the present circumstances.” And Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, wondered, “Do we belong?” and tearfully told reporters that her husband had often calmed her fears about gun violence here. He always thought the best of, and “wanted to ... do so much for this country.” By the time she gets back from burying him, she said, she wants to know what we’re going to do about hate crimes. We owe her that.

The sums that have been raised for Kuchibhotla’s family, Madasani and Grillot suggest that we do not share the suspect’s views about immigrants — we need you, and we were you. We don’t want you to “get out of my country,” as witnesses say the suspect shouted. There is little doubt that this was a hate crime; the suspect later told a bartender he’d killed two Middle Eastern men and needed a place to hide out. However the FBI classifies the killing, we cannot let hate pull up a barstool, or give it a place to hide out.

Yet the most important contribution we could make in the face of this unacceptable loss might be to soften our hearts and tone to those who are different. Of course that means seeing beyond any ethnic or other outward differences. But it also means questioning whether seeing all Trump voters as haters, or all liberals as the enemy, can ever get us where we all want to go. Not so deep down, we know it can’t.

The First Baptist Church of Olathe held a prayer vigil last month to honor the victims of the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill. In a possible hate crime, Adam W. Purinton, 51, allegedly shot and killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, of Overland Park.

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