Two Elderly Sikh Men Gunned Down, CA

Two elderly Sikh men, who wore turbans and beards, were gunned down
in Elk Grove, CA during their daily afternoon walk.  Hate is not the confirmed motivation but likely, according to officials.  This news comes in a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric is once again reaching a fevered pitch.  A few weeks ago, protesters screamed “terrorists” at Muslim children walking to a charity fundraiser. Last week, Tennessee legislators proposed a bill that would essentially criminalize Islam in the state.  Last year, following the Park51 firestorm, mosques in Tennessee, Oregon, and Georgia reported arson.  And next week, Peter King holds a Congressional hearing investigating the loyalty and “radicalization”  of American Muslims. Our culture treats Muslims and anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, including Sikh Americans, as perpetually foreign, automatically suspect and potentially terrorist.

I received this news on the other side of the country, while writing a reflection essay on the ten-year 9/11 anniversary.  As a Sikh American, it’s hard to ‘reflect’ when news of violence is ongoing.  Wiping away tears to post this.

I take heart in gestures of solidarity. My colleague Chris Stedman just called in support.  Last month, we responded to the brutal murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato with a piece on the Huffington Post: “From Ground Zero to Gays in Uganda: A Millennial Response to Moral Crises.” It called for people to join together struggles to end anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT policies and violence — so as to stand up for and with one another. A quiet way to do so today: light a candle for the grieving families (pictured above) and spread the word.

Here’s the story in the Sacramento Bee:

Police said Saturday that they don’t know why someone gunned down two men – frail from heart attacks and advancing years – as they slowly ambled through a quiet Elk Grove neighborhood during their daily afternoon walk.

Surinder Singh (pictured right), 67, died Friday afternoon on the sidewalk along East Stockton Boulevard near Geneva Pointe Drive. Gurmej Atwal (pictured below), his 78-year-old friend, was shot twice in the chest. His family said he was in critical but stable condition.

In a statement released late Saturday, Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner called on witnesses to come forward and said, “We have no evidence to indicate there was a hate or bias motivation for this crime; however, the obvious Sikh appearance of the men, including the traditional Dastar headwear and lack of any other apparent motive, increasingly raise that possibility.”

Lehner also said he had “made preliminary notification” to the local FBI office.

Relatives and friends in the tightknit Sikh community to which the two men belong were not as hesitant to call the shooting a hate crime.

Singh and Atwal, like many Sikh men, had thick beards and wore turbans – traditions that have made Sikhs the target of bigotry and violent attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Read the full story here.

Update — 3/7/2011 6PM EST:

This morning, the Sikh community held a press conference 0ffering a reward of nearly $30,000 for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator(s).  Family members also spoke.  Especially hard hitting were the words of a granddaughter:

Singh’s granddaugher, Navi Kaur, thanked the community for the outpouring of support following his death.”Our grandfather was a peaceful man who adopted this country as his own,” Kaur told the media and leaders gathered at a news conference.

“How can anyone shoot a man who posed no harm to anyone? He was a beloved father and a grandfather,” she said. “He is with God now and we just want justice for this senseless, cowardly act.”

Watch news coverage of the press conference here.