Swift Justice is Needed in Response to Recent Attacks on Sikhs in California
California: One of the latest attacks and hate crimes perpetrated against Sikhs in the United States occurred on Friday, September 30, 2016. Just days before, another Sikh man was brutally and criminally attacked. In both instances, the motive for the crime is obvious. In the first, however, political leaders met with the victim's family to try to assuage the harm done and the City of Bakersfield is handling the matter and giving it the serious attention the act calls for. In the second, the police in Richmond, California ponders what to do and the political leadership appears to be nowhere in sight.
On September 30, 2016, a man attacked Balmeet Singh in public view and threatened to kill him. People looked away as Mr. Singh, the son of a prominent physician in Bakersfield, was harassed and assaulted in this manner without provocation.
A few days before, on September 25, 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times, a group of men brutally beat another Sikh man, Maan Singh Khalsa, pulling his turban off his head through the driver's side window of his car, and shearing off his hair with a knife. The act is understood by most to relate to hatred and disrespect for Mr. Singh Khalsa's religion. The bruises on his face, hands and body viewed by the Sikh community as a symbolic warning to themselves.
Continued acts of criminality like these beg a question- in a State like California, where the Sikh population has been part of the community for at least a century, why isn't more being done to assure the community that they will be safe? Northern and Southern California alone currently have thirty-two (32) Sikh Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship). The gurdwaras feed the homeless throughout California and the United States and give to and host blood donations in collaboration with the Red Cross. Today, Sikhs around the country are business owners, professionals, and family oriented neighbors whose faith calls upon them to serve others, through seva (community service), regardless of the person's creed or race, Nonetheless, acts of violence and bigoted rage against the Sikh community continue to occur and the acts are met with apathetic indifference at best.
Sikhism is a major world religion, with approximately 25-28 million adherents worldwide. There are an estimated 200,000 - 500,000 Sikhs living the United States, with a vast majority of Sikhs living in Southern and Northern California. Sikh settlers came to California a century ago to work on the railroad and, like many Americans, to escape persecution.
Mr. Balmit Singh wears a turban (dastaar), unshorn hair and a beard as a symbol of his dedication to the teachings of the Sikh gurus and his Sikh faith. As a true testament to his dedication to the Sikh tenets, principally, to defend the innocent, Mr. Singh was not outraged by the personal attack, but more so, he was saddened by the helplessness on the faces of the common public that stood by and did nothing. "We are all saddened that while a fellow Bakersfield resident and American was irrationally and violently attacked based on bigotry, and because he is perceived to be different from the majority, we do not act to stop violence and look the other way at illegality," stated Manvinder Singh, Director at UNITED SIKHS.
In both instances, UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh community communicated the attacks to political leaders. "In the Balmeet case", states Manvinder Singh, "UNITED SIKHS communicated with the local Mayor's office, the Honorable Harvey Hall. Mayor Hall's office responded quickly and decidedly against the hate crime perpetrated in his City. He was receptive to the concerns of the Sikh community and met with the family to reassure the community that the incident is being taken seriously."
But Mayor Hall will not run for another term and what is concerning is that the same letter sent to his office was also sent to the 2016 Bakersfield Mayoral candidates. No response was received from either camp to the concerns raised by the Sikh community in regards to the attack on Mr. Singh. The intent was to open avenues for discussions about plans to help keep the Sikh community and everyone safe.
Sikhs have suffered disproportionately from the hate crimes and the political rhetoric that attack minorities in the U.S., especially since 9/11. They have been killed and beaten as a direct result of hatred and bigotry. They are Americans and hate crimes are visited upon them as a direct result of the stereotypes created by negative rhetoric, as is clear in both these cases.
The Sikh community needs help and have reason to be fearful for their lives. The first casualty of the negative political stereotypes after 9/11 was a Sikh. The massacre of innocent Sikhs at a Gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2012 and these persistent attacks against Sikhs because they wear their religious articles will likely continue unless good people do something.
Slow response to the acts rather than swift justice gives not only the Sikh community the illusion that violence by some against some Is tolerable when it should not be. It also shows, by the irrational nature of the act, that such criminality could be visited upon anyone of us at any time with equally unsure response by leaders.
Last week, in a conference call with civil rights activist, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) addressed the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) plan to release hate crimes data for 2015 in 2016 and not a minute too soon. It is expected that these statistics will show that a disproportionate number of these crimes happen to and in and to the Sikh community. Political leaders promise that these numbers will enable them to provide the resources to keep the community safe. UNITED SIKHS will continue to remain vigilant and press leadership for appropriate responses.

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Issued by,
Wanda Sanchez Day, Esq.
Acting Legal Director, International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA), UNITED SIKHS
Tel: 646-688-3525
E: law-usa@unitedsikhs.org | contact@unitedsikhs.org

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