Last summer, Wade Michael Page a white supremacist and U.S. Army veteran stormed into a Sikh temple also known as a gurdwara and killed six people, wounding four others, before killing himself after he was wounded by a police officer. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI characterized the attack as having racial motivations and being an act of domestic terrorism and a hate crime.
The people killed were: Paramjit Kaur, 41, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the founder of the temple, Prakash Singh, 39, an assistant priest, Sita Singh, 41, Ranjit Singh, 49, and Suveg Singh, 84. The injured included responding officer Lt. Brian Murphy (shot fifteen times at close range).
Sikh’s wear turbans as part of their faith, making Sikhs, as well as Muslims (who don’t usually wear turbans) targets to those who perceive all worshipers of a certain faith or set of faiths as extremists. Page had ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, and was reportedly a member of the Hammerskins. He entered the “white power music” scene in 2000. He founded End Apathy, his band in 2005 and played in Definite Hate, another band deemed racist by the SPLC. Page’s friend said he had talked about a “racial holy war”. Some of the victims were Indian nationals and citizens in India protested the U.S. government, burning American flags. American Sikhs condemned those activities. Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based group, pledged a $10,000 award to Lt. Murphy. Two Sikh residents of Yuba City, California donated another $100,000 to officer Murphy for his heroic actions.
This past September, a Columbia University professor, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, 31, who spoke out about hate crimes became a victim himself. Dr. Singh was beaten by a pack of men on bicycles near New York City’s Central Park. His attack once again underscored the vulnerability of Sikhs and Muslims to hate crimes because of extremists; innocent people are subjected to violence. Dr. Singh said his attackers yelled, “Get him!” and called him “Osama: and a “terrorist”. Sikhism is in fact a different religion from that which Muslims practice.
“I felt somebody grab my beard while on a bike, hit my chin,” said Singh, who is an assistant professor of international and public affairs as well as a practicing physician in East Harlem.
Singh’s jaw was fractured during the attack. In 2012, Singh wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that said the FBI should be keeping hate crime statistics on crimes against Muslims and Sikhs. The op-ed was written after Page’s attack on the Wisconsin temple. The piece detailed other attacks and hate speech directed at Sikhs in the U.S.
“Whatever the roots of Mr. Page’s hatred, it is wrong to assume that every attack against a Sikh is really meant for a Muslim,” Singh and Simran Jeet Singh wrote, “That assumption overlooks the long history of discrimination and hatred directed at Sikhs in America.”
The NYPD is trying to identify as many as 30 men who took part in the attack.
In May of this year, 82-year-old Piara Singh was attacked and beaten with a pipe in Fresno, California. Piara known as baba-ji, Punjabi for grandfather, spends his nights at the temple watching over the grounds and preparing the free meals that Sikh’s serve to the hungry. At about 7 a.m. on a Sunday, Piara in traditional dress, as always, went for a walk. Kawal Singh, his son, was driving to the temple to pick up his father when he saw a man jump off his bicycle and begin beating his father with a piece of metal. He called 911. By the time he reached his father, he was lying in a pool of his own blood. He had head injuries and a punctured lung.
Police identified Gilbert Garcia, 29, as the suspect and arrested him on assault with a deadly weapon charges. His charges were elevated to attempted murder.
“This was a very vicious, brutal beating,” said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Garcia fled from the scene, but was apprehended hiding behind a neighbor’s lemon tree. Garcia shouted when he was arrested that he hated “those people” and wanted to bomb their temples.
“There are others out there just as ignorant and hateful as the one we arrested,” Chief Dyer said. “We need to take care of one another.”
It isn’t just on the street; it is in our courtrooms as well. A Sikh man was subjected to a slur from a judge in traffic court. Jagjeet Singh, a practicing Sikh, was pulled over in January for a flat tire. He was then harassed by police officers with the Mississippi Department of Transportation about his kirpan, a small spiritual sword, which is a religious artifact for Sikhs. The officers taunted him as a “terrorist” and arrested him for “disobeying their commands”.
On his March court date, Judge Aubrey Rimes of the Pike County Justice Court ejected him from the courtroom stating that he wasn’t allowed to re-enter unless he removed “that rag” on his head. As mentioned previously in this post, the turban is essential to their faith. Jagjeet’s faith mandates he must cover his head and if he unwraps it in public he would be shamed and it would be sacrilegious. A subsequent Department of Justice investigation prompted the Pike County Board of Supervisors to revise the County’s non-discrimination policy to say that religious discrimination includes,
“requiring an individual to remove a head covering or denying that individual access to a County office, building, program or activity because they are wearing a head covering, if that head covering is worn for religious reasons.”
A Stanford University survey published in September revealed that almost all Americans who wear turbans are Sikhs and that 70% of Americans misidentify a turban with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Shintos. 50% of Americans also don’t understand that Sikhism isn’t a part of Islam. Sadly, more Americans associate a turban with Osama Bin Laden and terrorism than they do with religion.
- READ THE ACLU’S Letter to Mississippi’s DOT Here.
- READ Dr. Singh’s OP-ED Here (How Hate Gets Counted).
- READ ABOUT MORE Sikh Attacks Here (History of Hate: Crimes Against Sikhs Since 9/11).
- READ MORE ABOUT HATE CRIMES ON: The FBI’S Official Site.