Date: 14 Apr 2011


Subject: Attack on Sikh men triggers outcry in Elk Grove, Calif., and beyond \\\\\\\\\> > Attack on Sikh men triggers outcry in Elk Grove, Calif., and beyond > Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims and attacked since Sept. 11, 2001. Elk > Grove police haven't ruled out another such incident in the shooting that > killed one and injured another. > \\\\\\\\ > By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times > April 11, 2011\\\\\\\\ > > Reporting from Elk Grove, Calif. > Orange police chalk marks the lonely stretch of roadway where the crime > occurred. > \\\\\\\\\\\\ > Surinder Singh, 65, and Gurmej Atwal, 78, were out on their customary > afternoon stroll in this suburb south of Sacramento when they were shot near > the bright green bus shelter overlooking California 99, where they often > stopped to rest. Singh died at the scene. Atwal remains in critical > condition. > \\\\\\\\\\ > No arrests have been made and no motive established in last month's shooting > of the elderly Sikh neighbors, which has triggered a national outcry. > \\\\\\\\\ > Police have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. It is a scenario > that has played out numerous times since Sept. 11, 2001 Sikhs mistaken for > Muslims and randomly attacked. > \\\\\\\\\\\ > Days after 9/11, a Sikh gas station owner was shot to death in Arizona by a > man who claimed to be "a patriot." Since then, numerous other attacks have > been reported across the country.\\\\\\\\\\ > > In November, an Elk Grove cab driver, who is also Sikh, was beaten by two > men who yelled anti-Muslim slurs. Two suspects were later arrested. > \\\\\\\\\\ > This time, local and state officials and emissaries of different faiths > reacted swiftly.\\\\\\\\\\ > > "What occurred in our community last month is sickening," said state Sen. > Darryl Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who has helped organize an American Sikh > Day celebration on the Capitol steps Wednesday to honor California's 200,000 > Sikhs. "There is only one response to be had. That is you speak up and you > come together."\\\\\\\\\ > > Steinberg also plans a ceremony on the Senate floor Monday to acknowledge > the shooting victims. > \\\\\\\\\ > The FBI is assisting Elk Grove police, who immediately sought to allay the > fears of the town's 3,000 Sikhs and increased patrols where elders often > stroll. Many, like Singh and Atwal, wear turbans over their uncut hair to > signify Sikh devotion to religious faith and belief in generosity to > strangers.\\\\\\\\\\ > > A $50,000 reward for information in the case has also been established, with > contributions from Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Japanese American groups, and > Elk Grove FIRST, whose stated vision is "the promotion of ideas that > elevates community above self." > \\\\\\\\ > Floyd Mori, national director of the Japanese American Citizens League, flew > from Washington, D.C., to attend Singh's funeral. His organization has noted > similarities in the reactions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11: "A particular group > of people was accused of being disloyal and unpatriotic simply because of > their religion or their ethnicity. > \\\\\\\\\ > "We have stood up very strongly in support of the Muslim and Sikh community > since that time," he said. "We need to get beyond this whole thing of how we > stereotype people into good and evil. We need to start being civil." > \\\\\\\\\\ > In the same spirit, the stark white Sikh Temple of Sacramento, with its > cobalt blue-tipped domes and saffron flag, has become a center of community > gatherings to support the victims' families and prepare for Wednesday's > event.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ > > "We've gotten so much sympathy, so many emails," said Darshan Singh Mundy, > the temple's spokesman. "The majority say, 'You are bringing the community > together.' " > \\\\\\\\\\ > The world's fifth-largest religion, Sikhism is based on the teachings of > Guru Nanak, born in 1469, that there is one God and that humans are equally > blessed with dignity and divinity regardless of gender, ethnicity or class. > Sikhs make a commitment to live by the principles of honor, justice and > love for humanity."\\\\\\\\\ > > In the early 1900s, many Sikhs began migrating from Punjab, India, to > California to work on the railroads and in the orchards of the farm-rich > Central Valley. They settled in Yuba City, Stockton and points farther south > > \\\\\\\\\\\\ > In a 1915 article in the Stockton Record, a local Sikh leader explained > langar, the traditional offering of free food at all Sikh temples, saying, > The unfortunate hungry American will be as welcome as our own people." > \\\\\\\\\\\ > Yet Sikhs have often found themselves targets of discrimination rather than > appreciation for their open hand. They are sometimes mistaken for Hindus or > Muslims and heckled for their appearance. > \\\\\\\\\\\\\ > A survey, released in November, of 1,300 Sikh adults in nine Bay Area > counties found that 10% had experienced hate crimes. The vast majority > involved physical attacks, while the rest were vandalism-related. > \\\\\\\\\\\\ > The Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization that conducted the > survey, was launched after 9/11 with the hope that it would operate for only > a few years, said Neha Singh, regional director of the group. Instead, it > now has 10-full time staffers working cases, many involving workplace and > religious discrimination. > \\\\\\\\\\ > Amar Shergill, 40, a Sacramento Sikh civil rights activist and attorney, > said the recent shootings have stirred the entire Sikh community. > \\\\\\\\\\\ > Shergill and other community members said that attacks on Muslims are > equally unacceptable. But when Sikhs are attacked for wearing the turban, > it strikes at the heart of who we are as a people," he said. > \\\\\\\\\\\\\ > That is what makes Wednesday's celebration, expected to draw thousands of > Sikhs from across California, so important, Shergill and others said. > \\\\\\\\\\\\\ > "The biggest thing we need to push is awareness," said Kavneet Singh, > managing director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. > Regrettably it came out of something very tragic. But we're hopefully going > to be able to move the dial and educate people." > \\\\\\\\\\\ > Surinder Singh was a farmer and truck driver in India's Punjab before coming > to the U.S. in 2005 to enjoy his retirement surrounded by his son's family. > \\\\\\\\\\\ > Heart attacks left him weakened. But Gurmej Atwal, his neighbor, would help > him build strength. A retired bureaucrat, Atwal filled his idle time by > walking "seven or eight miles a day," earning him the nickname "walking man, > said Kamaljit Singh Atwal, 44, his son.\\\\\\\\\\ > > His son can recall only one instance in his life when his father was sick. > The elder Atwal motivated Singh, whose daughter-in-law hailed from a > neighboring Punjab village, "and encouraged him to leave the pills and go > walking," Kamaljit Atwal said. It was a ritual the men repeated each morning > and afternoon after they shared tea and chatted.\\\\\\\\ > > March 4 was no different. But shortly after 4:30 p.m., the wife of a family > friend came upon the men's slumped bodies on the sidewalk next to the > highway. > \\\\\\\\\\ > Although the attack was probably visible to motorists, the shooting remains > unsolved. The victims were not robbed.\\\\\\\\ > > There was no direct evidence of a hate crime, Elk Grove Police Chief Robert > M. Lehner said in a statement the next day, but "the obvious Sikh appearance > of the men, including the traditional dastar headwear and lack of any other > apparent motive, increasingly raises that possibility."\\\\\\\\ > > Elk Grove police conducted a traffic checkpoint on the street where the men > were shot to question motorists about what they may have seen or heard, said > Christopher Trim, a department spokesman. They were urged to be on the > lookout for a tan or light brown 1999 to 2003 Ford F-150 pickup truck seen > in the area. > \\\\\\\\\\ > "We did receive some information that we deemed worthy of following up on," > Trim said, declining to elaborate. But he stressed that investigators are > still hoping for a tip to help break the case. > > Kamaljit Atwal said his family is focused on his father's health. But > neither Gurmej Atwal nor Surinder Singh had enemies. > \\\\\\\\\\\ > The one motive that seems to make sense, Kamaljit Atwal said, is hate, a > sign that "nothing has changed" in the decade since 9/11.\\\\\\\\\\ > > On a recent afternoon, his 16-year-old daughter Navjit spoke about the > lessons her grandfather had taught her. "He would always say, 'Work hard. > Try your best.' Every day," she said. "I miss that now."\\\\\\\\ > > Each time she visits the intensive care unit, she said, she recalls the day > her grandfather walked out the door to join his friend Singh for their > afternoon stroll.\\\\\\\\\\ > > "I wish I had the ability to press a button and go back to that day and just > tell my grandpa to stay home," she said, her eyes filled with tears. > > \\\\\\\\\ >,0,1056541,full > story 000000000