By Travis Quezon
Northwest Asian Weekly
A candlelight vigil held on August 11 at the Gurudwara Singh Sabha of Washington helped Seattle-area residents to cope with the sadness and disbelief left in the wake of the shooting in Wisconsin which left six Sikh congregants dead and three others wounded.
More than a thousand people, both Sikh and non-Sikh, gathered to mourn, honor, and raise awareness on how to deal with hate and intolerance. For the interfaith leaders, local and federal law enforcement representatives, public school officials, and other community allies in attendance, the vigil was a small step toward achieving a broader objective — preventing violence against people of any background due to hate.
“There are very few people who can really understand how to deal with hate and intolerance, especially the gentleman who decided to kill six people for no other reason than the way they looked,” said Jasmit Singh, spokesperson for the Sikh Coalition. “Change can only be achieved by standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not acceptable.’ ”
Singh recently met with the Kent School District superintendent to find long-term solutions in addressing intolerance at the school level. He spoke to school officials about how the extreme diversity in the district poses both a strength and challenge — the differences are something to embrace, but also call for a comprehensive mutual understanding.
Earlier this month, Singh met with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and local faith leaders to talk about ways to address safety and discrimination on the government level. Singh also described ongoing efforts by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to address issues such as hate crimes, employment discrimination, racial and cultural profiling, and school bullying.
On Thursday, Cantwell and 18 other U.S. senators sent a bipartisan letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the Justice Department to allow for the collection and tracking of hate crimes committed against Sikh Americans.
The letter stated, “This tragic shooting is the latest hate crime committed against Sikhs in the United States. Over the past two years, two Sikhs in California were murdered, a Sikh temple in Michigan was desecrated, a Sikh transit worker in New York City was assaulted, and a Sikh taxi driver in California was severely beaten. … Because many Sikhs wear turbans and do not cut their facial hair, they are often viewed as foreign and are easy to target for harassment. Thus, Sikhs are particularly susceptible to violence committed because of their Sikh identity, even if the perpetrator does not understand that the victim is a Sikh.”
Singh said the tragedy in Wisconsin has stirred up ongoing frustrations by Sikhs in the United States, who are often targeted with violence and discrimination. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Sikh Coalition said it has received thousands of reports from the Sikh community about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling.
“The attacks on 9/11 were a very trying time for the Sikhs, as well as every other American,” Singh said. “Sikhs keep being targeted by people who are either misinformed or refuse to understand [those whom they are attacking].”
There are approximately 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States today. Singh described how the Sikh community has received many letters of condolences and solidarity. He said that everyone can help in resisting intolerance at the most basic level.
If you see someone, a friend or family member, acting out of ignorance, misguided hate, or xenophobia, you should step back and ask yourself, “How do I reach out in a non-threatening, educating manner?” (end)
Travis Quezon can be reached at email@example.com.