Graduate student Main Street attack under hate crime investigation, police say
The suspect in the attack — an older, white man — directed racial comments towards three Indian students and physically attacked a Pakistani student on Saturday night.
At approximately 10:45 p.m. on Saturday evening, an older, white man physically attacked biochemistry Ph.D. candidate Abubakar Khan after having directed racial epithets towards Khan and three other graduate students. Following the incident, the Hanover Police department submitted an alleged hate crime for review to the New Hampshire Department of Justice.
Hanover Police have identified a suspect as the attacker, but have declined to release his name pending charges, Hanover Police lieutenant Michael Schibuola said. At time of publication, Khan, who is an international student from Pakistan, said that he has reached out to his embassy and added that he is still deciding whether to pursue legal action.
“Most international students are on student visas and they’re working hard, they want to make a future for themselves; that is why we are here,” Khan said. “And they just don’t want to get involved with the police or the law, and that speaks for itself.”
On Monday afternoon, Safety and Security Director Keiselim Montás wrote in a campus-wide email that Safety and Security has an active trespass letter out for the suspect, though he did not provide additional context for the letter’s impact. Additionally, the apparent racial motivation behind the attack was not mentioned in the message.
Montás could not be reached for comment by press time.
Saturday’s attack occurred after three Thayer School of Engineering master’s candidates whom Khan knew — all Indian students — approached Khan and said a man had been directing racist comments towards them near their residence on Main Street. In a group of four, Khan said he and the other students went to identify the man in question; they did not plan on confronting him.
After the four walked by, however, the man reignited the conversation, which quickly turned racist, Khan said.
“He starts saying ‘Gandhi,’ and I’m not from India — I’m from Pakistan — but I understood where that was coming from, because that’s offensive,” Khan said. “I have three Indian friends who are behind me … and this is not okay.”
The situation escalated, Khan said, when the man threw his food and newspaper at the students. That was when Khan took out his phone and began recording.
“That’s what I’ve seen in media,” Khan said. “Being a Brown person, I’ve just been conditioned to believe that no matter what I do and no matter what situation I’m in, no one will believe me.”
Satyam Gawali, one of the three master’s students with Khan at the time of the attack, said that he felt that recording such incidents is critical.
“I think that’s really important, not just from a law enforcement standpoint, but I feel like, in general, creating awareness about these kinds of situations,” Gawali said.
In an apparent attempt to grab Khan’s phone, Khan said the man rushed at him, placing Khan in a chokehold with one of Khan’s arms behind his own back. Gawali said he then stepped in and pushed the man off of Khan.
“I kind of took a back step [about] whether I do want to get into it because … he is an old person, I did not want to get too aggressive,” Gawali said. “I kind of saw the guy was not letting go of [Khan] so I ran into [the man], pushed him a little.”
Khan said the man continued by throwing a nearby beer can at Khan, which instead hit and burst against a traffic light pole. Khan immediately told his friends to call 911, at which point a group of passing undergraduate students came to the group’s aid and scared off the attacker. The suspect fled down Main Street, according to Khan. Khan did not sustain physical injuries during the attack.
The suspect has been arrested in previous incidents and, several weeks ago, was taken to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center by police for a mental health evaluation, Schibuola added.
“[The suspect] is well known to us in the area,” Schibuola said. “He’s got mental health issues. He does exude odd behavior from time to time that people call us about.”
This is not the first time students of color have been subjected to verbal harassment by the suspect. At least two other students, Thayer Ph.D. candidate Bishal Dev Sharma — who is from Nepal — and a female Indian graduate student who requested anonymity for her safety, said they have been subjected to racist or aggressive remarks from the same individual identified by Khan within the last six months. Dev Sharma said he encountered the man last week.
“I couldn’t even clearly hear the words he said, but it was so obvious that this guy was yelling at me,” Dev Sharma said.
Khan said he is weighing his own legal recourse against a number of other factors, especially the stress it would potentially put on his family in Pakistan. In the meantime, Khan said he hopes the College takes action.
“I hope the College does something, because it’s not just me,” Khan said. “Maybe I’m the first person who was physically assaulted, but [these incidents] have happened before as well, and why hasn’t action been taken?”