Although the motives of the shooter in Wisconsin this morning are not yet clear, there is a bloody history of violence towards Sikhs in the United States since 9/11. Sikhism is a peaceful religion and its primary principles include equality and justice for all.
September 15, 2001 – Mesa, Arizona
49-year-old gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi was fatally shot. Frank Silva Roque, the shooter, mistakenly believed Sodhi was Muslim because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard. Within 25 minutes of his death, the Phoenix police reported four further attacks on people who either were Middle Easterners or who dressed with clothes thought to be worn by Middle Easterners. Frank Silva Roque was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty, but the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the sentence for life in prison, citing an extremely low IQ and mental illness. On August 4, 2002, Balbir's brother Sukhpal was shot to death while driving a cab in San Francisco. It did appear that his shooting was an accident — a stray bullet from a nearby gang fight. Balbir's son, Sukhwinder, was asked about the second tragedy and said "What are you going to do with anger? We like peace and we are a peaceful people."
Dec 12, 2001 – Los Angeles, California
47-year-old Surinder Singh Sidhi was beaten by two men who entered his store, accused him of being Osama bin Laden, and beat him with metal poles. They said, "We'll kill bin Laden today," then hit him over twenty times with the poles. "The crime was regrettable but not surprising," Kirtan-Singh Khalsa, spokesman for the Khalsa Council, an international council for Sikh affairs, said. "We're deeply concerned by this event. But we are not shocked. Sikhs are accustomed to ridicule because of wearing turbans."
February 19, 2002 – Palermo, New York
Three 18-year-old boys and one 19-year-old girl burned down the Sikh temple Gobinde Sadan. The teens told authorities that they believed the temple was named "Go Bin Laden."
May 20, 2003 – Phoenix, Arizona
Avtar Singh, 52, a Sikh immigrant, was shot and wounded. Sigh parked his 18-wheeler in Phoenix and called his son to pick him up. While he was waiting, at least two young white men pulled up and started yelling. Singh said "I hear that voice: 'Go back to where you belong to.' And at the same time I heard the shot."
Mar 14, 2004 – Fresno, California
Vandals spray-painted graffiti saying "Rags Go Home" and "It's Not Your Country" on the Gurdwara Sahib temple in Fresno. It was not the first time the temple had been defaced -- in 2003, vandals struck five nights in a row, spraying paint and hurling firecrackers at the temple.
July 12, 2004 – New York
Sikhs Rajinder Singh Khalsa and Gurcharan Singh were viciously beaten by an intoxicated group of Caucasian males in their 20s. 54-year-old Rajinder Singh Khalsa was walking to the Tandoori Express Restaurant with his cousin Gurcharan Singh when the group of Caucasian males in their 20s began to taunt them, referencing September 11th and making fun of their turbans. Rajinder Singh Khalsa attempted to explain the significance to the attackers, who responded by assaulting him. He was beaten unconscious and was found to have multiple broken bones.
May 24, 2007 – Queens, New York
A 15-year-old Sikh student had his hair forcibly cut by a fellow student at Newtown High School in Queens. Unshorn hair is a religious imperative for a Sikh, and the student tried to explain that to his assailant, who threatened him with scissors.
January 14, 2008 – New Hyde Park, New York
Baljeet Singh, a 63-year-old Sikh, was attacked outside his temple by a man who screamed “Arab, go back to your country.” Wood then allegedly told Chadha "you don't listen" and punched him in the face. Singh suffered a broken nose and a fractured jaw.
June 5, 2008 – Queens, New York
A 9th grade Sikh student at Richmond Hill High School was attacked by a fellow student. The bully sought to remove his Sikh classmate’s patka from behind, and hit him in the face with keys. The victim ended up in the hospital with severe bruising and swelling. The victim had been reporting the bully for months, after the bully allegedly teased the child often, tugging on the victim’s beard and asking why he didn't shave.
January 30, 2009 – New York
Jasmir Singh was attacked by three men around 4 AM outside a grocery store in Queens with a glass bottle. Jasmir's friend who was with him the morning of the attack, told the police that while Jasmir was being attacked, racist slurs were used as the criminals aimed at Jasmir’s beard and turban. His father was attacked on the Subway two years later.
May 30, 2011 – New York Subway
Jasmir Singh's father, MTA worker Jiwan Singh, a U.S. resident for thirty years, was accosted on the A train and accused of being related to Osama Bin Laden. The attacker then repeatedly punched Singh in the face. The victim lost three teeth. His daughter, Piarry, 18, said "I just wish people were not cruel."
Sadly, these incidents only represent a fraction of the crimes — many of which certainly go unreported — that are perpetrated against Sikhs in the United States. A 2007 survey of Sikh students by the Sikh Coalition found that three out of four male students interviewed "had been teased or harassed on account of their religious identity."
That discrimination has worsened significantly since 9/11. Sikhs have struggled with trying to prove to the hateful that they are not Muslims or Arabs, while still believing in equality and fair treatment for those groups as well. Today's incident may or may not end up being classified as a hate crime, but regardless: the Sikh people certainly deserve the respect and acceptance of their fellow Americans rather than the scorn, ridicule, and violence they are too often subjected to.
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