Asif, a father of four who works in the health care industry, took his family to a California park for a farewell potluck dinner on Sunday. A friend was leaving town, and nearly 25 family members and friends gathered to give them a proper send-off.
Instead, the gathering ended in fear when a 33-year-old man allegedly began threatening the Muslim families, hurling racist remarks and even attempting to run over several people, including children. The incident happened at Heron Landing Community Park in Rancho Cordova, nearly a dozen miles east of Sacramento.
The man, later identified by authorities as Robert Avery, first approached the women in the group, yelling obscenities and racial remarks, said Asif, who is being identified by a pseudonym. He said the men of the group quickly intervened, attempting to shield the women and children, and called 911.
“We didn’t want to engage him. We were not sure what he had in terms of weapons,” said Asif. “We also didn’t want to validate him.”
Avery allegedly continued to harass the families, using racial slurs and demanding they leave. Police said he also threatened to bring his gun and “shoot and bomb” the Muslim families, before leaving briefly and returning a few minutes later with his vehicle.
Video footage posted to YouTube by CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group, shows a silver car driving through a picnic area adjacent to a sports field as an adult lifts a child out of the way. People can be heard screaming in the background as a member of the group calls 911.
This video contains disturbing footage.
Avery was arrested on charges related to assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threats and a hate crime, according to a statement from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. Avery, who police said is a registered sex offender, turned himself in Monday morning and was booked that same day. He is currently being held on $125,000 bail.
Neither the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office nor the local district attorney’s office responded to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Layli Shirani, the senior civil rights attorney at CAIR-Sacramento, told HuffPost the attack left the families traumatized, especially at a time when gun violence is on the rise.
“There’s just so many layers to the credibility of the acute fear that this group of people must have been put into on that day,” Shirani said. “I can’t even imagine what they’re feeling, especially those who are there with small children.”
Asif’s four children, who range in age from 10 months to 7 years old, were present at the attack. He said his eldest two daughters have been sleeping with their parents out of fear since then.
“It was scary for them. It was scary for all of us,” said Asif, who now doesn’t let his children play outside without his supervision.
“We have reports of incidents where Muslims or Muslim-appearing people gather and are harassed. That happens quite a bit” in the Sacramento-valley area, said Shirani. “It’s very harmful to hear those slurs and the feeling of being unwelcome.”
Nationwide, there were more than 130 anti-Muslim incidents in 2021, according to the most recent federal data. The number is likely higher, however, as not all incidents are reported.
Just last week, two women were arrested in Milwaukee for allegedly grabbing and punching several Muslim women at a park. The victims said they believed the attack was a hate crime.
Asif said he’s still traumatized and unsure when he’ll be able to recover from Sunday’s incident.
“It’s a moment that’s etched into my memory, a stark reminder of the prejudice that still exists in the world,” he wrote in a personal note the day after the event in an attempt to process what happened, and later shared with HuffPost.
“In those agonizing moments, our resilience was put to the test,” he added.