Erasure: AZ Bill Wipes Sodhi’s Name from 9/11 Memorial

Erasure: AZ Bill Wipes Sodhi’s Name from 9/11 Memorial

Anyone who knows about the aftermath of 9/11 will remember the story of Balbir Singh Sodhi.  A turbaned Sikh man, he was the first person murdered in a hate crime in response to 9/11.  It called national attention to anti-Muslim violence and galvanized action from all corners.  In Arizona, where three thousand people attended the memorial, the legislature honored Sodhi on the state’s 9/11 Memorial.

His story has never been disputed.  Until now.

This month, Arizona Representative John Kavanagh introduced a bill that would remove Sodhi’s name from the 9/11 memorial, along with other “political” statements.  Kavanagh asserts that Sodhi “was not a 9/11 victim.”  In fact, based on a cursory internet search, he says that it’s unclear that the shooting was directly related to 9/11.

There are many issues we can debate about the aftermath of 9/11.  This is not one of them.  Sodhi’s murder is the most documented post-9/11 hate crime.  It is astonishing that Kavanagh would claim to miss the thousands of accounts about his story – newspaper articles, reports, songs, and films like Divided We Fall and Dream in Doubt– in a google search.

According to the Arizona Republic, Republican leader Rick Romley, former Maricopa County Attorney whose office prosecuted the crime, said that he was appalled by Kavanagh’s failure to research the case.  Romley believes Kavanagh’s argument that the Memorial should not reflect the 9/11 aftermath is insulting to his son and other serviceman and women who fought or sacrificed their lives in the war in Afghanistan.

And yet, the outcry clearly has not been loud enough.  The bill just passed both houses on party-line votes.  Now it’s on the desk of Arizona Governor Brewer.

The bill comes as a blow to the Sikh community, which has endured a decade of resurgent hate violence. Most recently, a few days before Peter King’s congressional hearings on “radicalization” in the Muslim community, two elderly turbaned Sikh men were gunned down on their afternoon walk in Elk Grove, California in what police speculate is a hate crime.  Gurmej Atwal, who had been fighting for his life, just died in critical care a few days ago.  Now the community faces another kind of attack: an attempt to wipe away the show of goodwill and compassion received in response.

I urge people to sign the petition urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill.

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Update: 4/27/11 at 11:55pm

Rep Kavanagh issued an apology to Rana Sodhi and family today — and dropped his efforts to seek to remove Balbir Sodhi’s name from the Memorial.  He agreed to put Sodhi’s name back in the Memorial, even if Governor Brewer signs his bill into law.  He still takes issue with the other statements on the Memorial, however, including “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.”

Although I appreciate the apology, Kavanagh’s effort is part of a disturbing trend of politicians backing symbolic legislation — whether on 9/11 or banning sharia — in order to score political points, most often at the expense of vulnerable communities.  We’re still months away from the ten-year anniversary, but we have a taste of what’s to come.

In the mean time, join one effort to prepare this 9/11/11 as part of the Groundswell.

Update 5/2/11 at 11pm

Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill and offered condolences to the Sodhi family. A testament to what is possible when good people mobilize quickly to correct a wrong.