Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – In its 30 years of existence, the India Palace restaurant in Santa Fe never had security cameras inside or outside the building.
“We never needed them,” said Baljot Singh, whose father, Baljit, owns the establishment. “Nothing’s ever happened here.”
But something did happen to the restaurant Monday.
Baljit arrived around 1 p.m. to find his restaurant a shambles. Glasses and dishes were smashed, tables flipped over and beautiful artwork destroyed.
The most disturbing part, though, was racist messages sprayed on seemingly every wall in the building, among them “white power” and “I hate sand (expletive).” The Singhs practice Sikhism, although many slurs were directed at Muslims.
When he saw the damage, Baljot had to be helped out of the building – the emotion was too great.
“The minute I got here, it was overwhelming for me, and I completely lost it,” he said.
The Singhs estimated repairs and replacement of destroyed equipment will cost around $100,000. Baljot said he does not know how some features, such as the hand-painted murals now covered in spray paint, can ever be restored.
Soon after news of the vandalism appeared in the Santa Fe Reporter, though, local residents began to organize.
Many stopped by India Palace’s downtown location, leaving flowers and business cards with phone numbers so they could assist in cleaning up the restaurant.
One of those people was Shaan Minhas, a friend of the Singhs whose family owned a nearby ice cream shop. Minhas, who is Pakistani and Muslim, said he was upset by the slurs someone had painted.
“It was about what you expect from ignorant people,” he said. “It makes me apoplectic.”
Multiple GoFundMe pages also began to raise money for repairs; one started by another local Indian restaurant, Paper Dosa, raised more than $55,000 in 12 hours. Nellie Tischler, one of the owners of Paper Dosa, said she will start another fundraiser soon.
Baljit said he had to turn off his phone due to the hundreds of worldwide calls he received, adding that he “didn’t sleep all night.”
The vandalism received swift condemnation from many elected officials, including Mayor Alan Webber, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.
Talking to reporters Tuesday, the family expressed frustration that the Santa Fe Police Department took nearly three hours to respond to the incident.
“This is constantly happening with the Santa Fe Police Department, where they’re not showing up for two to three hours at a time,” said Cameron Brown, a family friend who assists at the restaurant.
SFPD Deputy Chief Paul Joye said that officers were busy responding to an earlier robbery call and that a burglary that is not in progress does not usually take priority.
“We have to prioritize our calls for life over property,” he said, adding that he doesn’t agree that SFPD is often late to calls.
Baljot Singh said his family needs time to process the situation before any cleanup effort begins.
“I’m not even comfortable being here,” he said. “I basically grew up in this restaurant.”
Joye said the incident has been labeled a hate crime and that the FBI has offered to assist the investigation.