“I hate you fucking Indians,” Esmeralda Upton yelled at Rudra and her friends. “If things are so great in your country, then stay there.”
Rudra and her friends are Indian American. They’re all U.S. citizens, and Rudra has lived in the States longer than she ever lived in India. The insults escalated into a physical attack that Rudra and her friends caught on video. Now, Rudra is suing her attacker for compensatory and punitive damages in a Collin County civil court.
“Life has not been the same since the incident, to put it lightly,” Rudra told the Observer by phone Wednesday. "There’s a lot of trauma, emotional distress and a feeling of insecurity that keeps haunting me all the time. The assailant's words keep ringing in my ears when I go to sleep.”
Rudra and her friends all tried to avoid the conflict on Aug. 24, but the insults continued in the parking lot of Sixty Vines, where they had just eaten dinner.
Rudra and her friends took out their phones to record what was happening, and Upton flew into a rage. She attacked Rudra and her friends and threatened to shoot them. “You turn off that phone or I swear to God I’ll fucking shoot your ass,” Upton said.
Rudra and her friends tried to get away, but Upton wouldn’t leave them alone.
Plano police officers separated everyone when they got there a few minutes later, but Upton was allowed to leave after refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Police arrested her the next day on two misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury and terroristic threats.
In a press release at the time, the Plano Police Department also said the incident was under investigation and more charges could be filed. The department later added that the FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime. (The FBI in Dallas has declined to comment and wouldn't confirm whether it's investigating the incident.)
Last week, Rudra filed the civil lawsuit against Upton, saying the whole incident has left her afraid and distressed until this day. She's developed high blood pressure and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has trouble sleeping and lacks an appetite, according to her suit. On top of feeling shame, humiliation, deep anxiety and embarrassment, Rudra also says she fears for her and her family’s safety.
Rudra had never experienced anything like this before, she said. But she feels racial tensions have risen in recent years and she now fears for her and her family’s safety. Rudra said she’s afraid of Upton, “and also people who think like her, who are like her.”
“Any minority is under some sort of threat in today’s world." – Bidisha Rudra, plaintifftweet this
“Any minority is under some sort of threat in today’s world,” she said.
The law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP has taken on the case after it was referred to them by the Alliance for Asian American Justice, a national pro-bono organization that advocates for victims of anti-Asian hate crimes.
Veronica Smith Moyé, the lead attorney in the suit, said video footage of the incident outraged her. She'd seen the video before her firm took on Rudra's case. “It’s horrible when something like this happens to anyone, but when it happens in the area where you live, you can’t help but feel it personally,” Moyé said.
"The point really is to send a message that this kind of behavior has real world consequences and won't be tolerated," Moyé said. "This kind of behavior has no place in a civilized society and people need to understand that."
Moyé said plenty of people experience things like what Rudra went through last month, but they don't always have the chance to fight back legally. "That's why it's all the more important that someone like Ms. Rudra does so," she said. If it weren't for the video of the incident, Moyé said nothing might have come of it. She said, "The videotape is revealing to the world things that many of us live with and that have been ignored for a long time."
Upton couldn’t be reached for comment, but she admitted to police that she hit Rudra, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by WFAA. Upton continued to make racist comments when talking with officers on the scene. She told police she got agitated because the group called her a “white woman.” Upton first told police she was a “first-generation” American but later said she was actually second-generation. She told them she was "Mexican American" and "Native American."
According to the affidavit, Upton said she punched Rudra’s wrist because they were “videoing and saying all of this … that I wasn’t doing.
“And that’s what they do,” Upton said, according to the affidavit. “Just like the Black people.”
Upton posted a $10,000 bond after she was arrested.
Plano PD has yet to provide any updates on whether it intends to pursue additional charges, such as a hate crimes enhancement.
Such incidents have been on the rise in recent years. According to the FBI's tally, hate crimes hit the highest level in two decades, with more 11,100 incidents documented by law enforcement agencies across the country.
The FBI hasn't yet released its 2021 data, but researchers at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes had spiked by more than 20% last year in 20 major U.S. cities. That study also noted that anti-Asian hate crimes had swelled by 224% when compared with the prior year.
While the whole experience has been traumatic, Rudra said she's also been overwhelmed by support she's gotten from friends, family and others since the incident. She said, "At the end of the day, I feel there is more love in our world than hate, and we should all do our part to create more awareness and advocate against racial hatred to make the world a better place for our next generation."