Sikh Americans Condemn Hate Crimes and Urge Nation to Unite; Demand Protection from Police and Public Officials

September 17th, 2001

The Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force (SMART), a Washington, DC-based Sikh civil rights advocacy group is saddened to report the murder of a Sikh American in a racially motivated attack- the first known death in the racist backlash since the horrible terrorist attack on our nation last Tuesday.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, was killed Saturday in Mesa, Arizona when a gunman in a pick-up truck drove into the service station that he ran, and fired three shots at him. The assailant then drove on to another service station where a Lebanese American was working and to a house, firing several shots, but injuring no one else.

Shockingly, sergeant Mike Goulet of the Mesa Police said the murder was not being considered a racist crime, and that the police did not yet have a motive. This flies in the face of the evidence of the several hundred racially- motivated hate crimes against Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh Americans in the days since the terrorist attack on America. Further substantiating the racist nature of the attack were comments by Mr. Sodhi’s brother and the owner of the gas station where the second shooting occurred. Both said that people had launched verbal epithets at both stations since Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. Furthermore, no robbery was attempted after the shooting. Neighbor Carmen Antolin also told media about the verbal assaults Mr. Sodhi had endured.

We hope that the police will quickly apprehend the murderer and realize the racially-motivated nature of the attack.

Sikh Americans, who have made the United States their home for over one hundred years, stand united with their fellow Americans in condemning the horrible terrorist attacks on our nation. We join all Americans in praying for the victims and their families, and support our government’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

However, at this time of national tragedy, we must demonstrate the strength of our national character. The United States prides itself on its commitment to the freedom, justice, equality, and respect for every individual. But in the aftermath of the attacks, our beloved nation has seen widespread hate crimes targeted at Americans of various racial and religious minorities. No one should ever be attacked or discriminated against due to appearance or religious affiliation. Sikh Americans condemn and are deeply disturbed by such senseless violence, and stand in solidarity with all victims of these hate crimes.

We have to unite as a nation! We must not succumb to the temptation to strike back at those who perpetrated these heinous acts by venting our anger on innocent Americans. It is unconscionable and un-American to assign collective blame to any ethnic or religious community for the misdirected actions of a few madmen. Fanaticism must not be met with further fanaticism.

The terrorist attack was aimed at all Americans, without exception. The Arab and Muslim American communities share every bit of the heartache and anguish that all Americans have been enduring- a suffering magnified by the fear many now feel from their fellow Americans, due to the epidemic of reprehensible racist attacks. We must be careful not to let the emotions of the moment turn into racist hysteria against a particular group of people, as Americans learned from our treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We must learn from our past mistakes.

Sikh Americans have been at particular risk of racial harassment and attack. Because of their turbans and beards, they physically resemble the men publicized by the media as being suspects in the terrorist attacks. Due to this outward resemblance, Sikh Americans have endured over 150 documented hate crimes in the five days following the attacks. The hate crimes committed against South Asian, Muslim, and Arab Americans add scores to this already sickening total.

In the past few days, Sikh Americans have suffered attacks on their bodies, businesses, gurdwaras (sacred sites of congregational prayer), homes, and peace of mind. They have been verbally abused, threatened, and attacked with weapons like guns, knives, and baseball bats. Many Sikhs are afraid to leave their home. This situation cannot continue, for then the terrorists will have truly won.

The Sikh American community wants to issue a heartfelt thanks to the many fellow Americans who have gone out of their way to express their concern and regret for these acts of violence. Your words and gestures have been comforting in this extremely difficult time.

In accord with their responsibilities to all Americans, law enforcement officials and the media must take effective, pro-active steps to ensure that this spate of hate crimes is curtailed. We need political leaders and police officers to state publicly and emphatically that perpetrators of such crimes will be prosecuted vigorously.

Throughout the nation, Sikh Americans are joining their fellow citizens in rebuilding America by donating blood and other resources to the relief effort. The time has come for ALL Americans to join hands, as one nation, and come together to support each other in our time of need. While the people work to heal, the authorities must do their job as well, to protect the innocent members of our society from the racist attacks currently plaguing our nation.

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