Edison, New Jersey, has a relatively racially diverse population—nearly half of the township is Asian-American. But a set of racist flyers is causing a national stir after local residents were told to “Make Edison Great Again” by keeping two candidates of color off the school board.
Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel were targeted earlier this week after residents received a flyer in the mail with photos of each candidate with the words “DEPORT” stamped underneath, asking township citizens to “stop Jerry Shi & Falguni Patel from taking over our School Board.” Why? The flyer fears Asian- and Indian-Americans are “taking over our town.”
“Chinese school!” the ad reads. “Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is Enough!!”
Deport Chinese/Indian, take Edison back, make Edison great again. Campaign card in Edison, NJ. pic.twitter.com/KbEgRbQqBP
— 北大飞 (@flyingpku) November 2, 2017
Shi and Patel have since responded to the racist ad, sending out a joint statement to the Daily Dot. Both candidates stressed that Edison is “a wonderful community full of amazing people of all backgrounds,” and that the “Make Edison Great Again” flyers’ message is “un-American and not the Edison we know.”
“When our naysayers go low, we will go high and double our efforts to build a better future together,” Shi and Patel told the Daily Dot. “We will continue to focus on our campaign and work for the students and taxpayers of this town that we love.”
In the meantime, Middlesex County is currently investigating the flyers. It’s unclear who created the ads, as there’s no official organization or name associated with them, although prosecutors vow to figure out how the ads were created and mailed out.
“The racist message shocks the conscience and is highly offensive,” Middlesex prosecutor Andrew Carey told NJ.com. “In order to support the community, our detectives, along with those from the Edison Police Department and other agencies, are examining the facts surrounding the mailing.”
ACLU of New Jersey’s executive director, Amol Sinha, who also serves as president-elect for the South Asian Bar Association of New York, said he was “angered” when he saw the racist flyers but was also unsurprised. Citing ongoing xenophobia in a national setting that has filtered down into local political rhetoric, he believes politicians at all levels harbor discriminatory beliefs that single out Asian-Americans.
“Racism is a problem across the United States, including New Jersey, and plagues every institution we have, including elections, politics, and the democratic process,” he told the Daily Dot. “We have municipalities whose school boards and agencies look nothing like the people they represent.”
On the one hand, he doesn’t think the flyers’ creators will face criminal charges because their comments are protected by the First Amendment, even though he calls that speech “bigoted, hateful, and reprehensible.” But he does think they may face criminal prosecution under state law.
“There is a question as to whether the flyer violates New Jersey election law because they are political ads that do not identify the speaker or the source of funding,” he explained. “I believe that’s something the state is looking into.”
As Sinha points out, this isn’t the first time bigotry has haunted local political elections. In one of the most openly hostile races in the country, a transgender woman running for the Virginia House of Delegates has faced ongoing transphobia from her opponent, and a Minnesota Republican party official targeted an openly lesbian candidate during her congressional run.
Activists have since encouraged allies to attend local political meetings and run for office in order to fight bigotry when it emerges in townships and city councils.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comment from Amol Sinha from the South Asian Bar Association of New York.