A man was arrested for destroying three Buddha statues on Sunday April 5 at Wat Lao Santitham, a Buddhist temple in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Shawn Michael Israel, 21, was caught by police cameras at the temple with a hammer in his hand. Israel is heard saying that the statues were a “false idol.” . . a false monument, ”and that he was doing what God told him to do through the Scriptures. (40/29 News)
Police officers at the scene reported seeing Israel “hitting a golden Buddha statue with a hammer, causing severe damage.” (WWLP 22 News) Agents confronted and arrested Israel for first degree criminal mischief.
Buddhist Ken Chanthakhot told reporters at the scene, “Every day is our life and it’s just something that traumatized me and hurt my family. And I, my life, I come here to worship. We are worried, we are just afraid to come here. (40/29 News)
Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker said: “I am saddened by this apparent act of religious intolerance and thankful that our officers were able to apprehend the suspect. (WWLP 22 News)
The damage was estimated at US $ 10,000. “This incident left many elderly temple members injured, speechless and uncomfortable, as the peaceful temple they visited each week in what was a quiet neighborhood for decades has lost its tranquility,” he said. writes Thy Sorluangsana in her online fundraising effort for the temple. (Gofundme)
The fundraiser aims to replace damaged statues and expand security around the temple. As of this writing on April 9, the appeal has raised just over US $ 3,000 of its goal of US $ 20,000.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across North America, so do the racist attacks on Asians. In March, several Buddhist sites were desecrated in Montreal, Canada. Temple members believed the actions were linked to racism in the face of the growing COVID-19 epidemic. *
In mid-March, the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council created the “Stop AAPI Hate” website, with the aim of collecting stories of attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. United. According to a press release, the website had collected more than 1,100 reports between March 19 and April 3.
“The tide of anti-Asian hate incidents – over 1,100 and over – reflects the harsh environment that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face during this pandemic. The data helps us respond to specific community needs and make targeted policy recommendations. These include providing mental health resources for bullied youth and ensuring that stores provide AAPIs with safe access to their goods and services. said Russell Jeung, president and professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. (Asia-Pacific Policy and Planning Council)
The attack on Fort Smith prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to push for hate crimes legislation. On April 7, CAIR called on the Arkansas General Assembly to pass hate crimes legislation in the state, one of four states in the United States without such a law, which would dictate that crimes motivated by discrimination against religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation be attempted at the federal level.
Wat Lao President Buasay Keobounson said he supported the push for legislation, adding: “I felt miserable and sorry for [the vandalism] and I feel in danger for the monks. (Time record)
County District Attorney Dan Shue said charges could be filed state and federal levels. “Obviously, if one person targets another because of their race, ethnicity or religion, that will certainly be taken into account in any decision regarding the case. Plus, evidence of victim impact is almost always a factor in determining what is the right thing to do, ”said Shue. (Time record)
Joel Finkelstein, director of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hate speech online, noted that verbal slurs such as “kungflu” – which confuses the pandemic with ethnic and national identity – can actively lead to violence. “Words are like a virus,” he said. “It leads to actions that are visible.” (Washington post)
Keobounson cited the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that he would not be able to replace the statues – imported from Thailand – until the restrictions were lifted. Keobounson added that he did not want to visit the temple to minimize interactions with others while social distancing notices were in place. Keobounson added, on an optimistic note, that this was the first such act of temple violence in his 30 years in the community: “In the past 30 years, everything has gone well. We can live together in peace. (Time record)
* Montreal Police Investigate Desecration of Buddhist Sites and Temples as Potential Hate Crimes (Buddhistdoor Global)
Thy’s campaign for Wat Lao Santitham (Gofundme)
Fort Smith Buddhist temple vandalized (WWLP 22 News)
Fort Smith Buddhist temple vandalized (News 40/29)
STOP AAPI HATE receives over 1,100 incident reports of verbal harassment, avoidance and physical assault in two weeks (Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council)
Hate Crimes Law Sought After Buddhist Temple Vandalism (Time record)
As the coronavirus spreads, online racism targeting Asians is also spreading, new research shows (Washington post)