When Bajit Singh walked into his India Palace restaurant to prepare for a busy dinner service Monday afternoon, he found his restaurant destroyed and racial slurs graffitied all over the walls.
“I walked into the kitchen, I saw everything and I was like, hold on, what? What is going on here?” he tells SFR.
“White power,” “Trump 2020,” “go home,” and far worse were spray-painted on walls, doors, counters and any other available surface. Some phrases contained threats of violence and derogatory racial slurs.
Tables were overturned, glassware was smashed into piles on the floor. The wine racks were emptied, a statue of a goddess was beheaded and computers were stolen. Food warmers were turned over and destroyed. The front desk area was gutted, plates smashed and the kitchen rendered completely unusable.
“He [Singh] calls me and said, ‘Someone broke into the restaurant.’ I call his son to get down here and I get down here. I didn’t think it was this bad until I came in,” says Cameron Brown, an assistant at the restaurant and friend of the Singh family, which has owned the restaurant since 2013. He estimates the damage to be well over $100,000. Among the items stolen or damaged include supplies that Brown and the Singhs would use to create weekly care packages for downtown’s unhoused population.
“We do a bag full of food and hygiene products,” Singh’s son Baljot tells SFR. “We throw in some cash—$5, $10.”
While recent acts of vandalism against downtown monuments that some consider racist have brought heightened attention to this sort of crime, this attack is marked by white supremacy, is much more involved and has a personal target.
Singh had no reason to expect a crime like this in his community. “I’ve never seen this before, this is the first time. I have security and everything, you know?” he says, referring to the private security company contracted by his landlords. “Recently, with everything opening back up… [security] isn’t needed as much,” says Brown, explaining why security may not have been present to prevent the attack.
According to Brown, Santa Fe police were called at 12:58 pm. SFR arrived on the scene at 3:30 pm and police were still not there, although Brown and Singh had given a report via phone to the FBI. Police had just arrived when SFR left the restaurant at 3:50 pm—almost three hours after the initial call for service.
The restaurant has only recently re-opened after being closed due to COVID-19 public health orders, and recent protests in downtown have made the area rife with conflict.
According to the Singhs, last Thursday during aThree Sisters Collective protest on the Plaza an armed man incorrectly parked his car in one of India Palace’s spots. When he was asked to move, he threatened the family with his guns; police were called and collected the vehicle’s information. The man identified himself as a nearby business owner before heading in the direction of the Plaza with multiple guns and magazines.
While specific perpetrators and motivations are yet unknown, the general cause is clear to Marcus Romero, family friend of the Singhs: “It’s a racial thing, you know?”
By Monday night, Santa Feans had started at least five separate crowdfunding efforts to accept donations for the restaurant's recovery. However, when SFR was last in touch with the Singh family Monday evening, they had not yet affiliated with any of the campaigns. "We're just going to try our best to fix it," said Brown. SFR will provide updates if and when a fundraiser becomes more officially affiliated with the family.
Tuesday morning, the national Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement condemning the destruction. "This disturbing hate attack once again demonstrates that growing white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism target every minority community and must be challenged by people of all races, faiths and backgrounds," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. "We call on President Trump, whose name was used by the hate vandals, to stop promoting bigotry and division and instead seek to bring our nation together at this time of crisis."
Santa Fe Police did not immediately respond to SFR's requests for comment about the case.
Editor's note: a previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Bajit Singh's name. This story has been updated with additional details about fundraising that's not tied to the restaurant and with a statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
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A Santa Fean by choice, Cole moved to New Mexico in 2015 and stuck around for college. After completing an editorial internship their freshman year, they briefly wrote a culture column in the spring of 2018 and, after graduating, came to the Reporter as calendar and copy editor to live out their wildest dreams.