After a Sikh man was shot in his driveway by an armed white man who told him to get out the country, March 3, in Kent, Washington, the local community has stepped forward to reassure the Indian-Americans of their concern and protection.
The community is puzzled by the crime because it is an old and established concentration of Sikhs. The first gurdwara was founded in the area in the 1940s, and today there are five gurdwaras serving the 20,000 Sikhs living in Kent and a little less than 20,000 living in the adjacent town of Renton. They hold a range of jobs from software engineers to small businessmen and cab drivers. By all accounts Sikhs are a familiar site in the area, leaders note, so why this attack, they question.
Kent police and the FBI are investigating it as a hate crime. and have appealed to the larger community to help apprehend the perpetrator who is described as a 6 foot tall white man of stocky build.
The young man was working on his car when this man with the mask covering the lower half of his face, walked up to him with a gun, told him to “Go back to your own country,” shot him in the arm and ran away, local leaders told News India Times.
The incident has so rattled the victim who is now back home after being treated at the hospital, that he does not want to reveal his name or any other details. “He’s very shaken up and very afraid that the person is going to come back and get him again,” Jasmit Singh Kochar, the local Sikh Coalition leader in Renton, told News India Times.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has approached the Kent Sikh community to ask for a meeting and expressed her sorrow. She is expected to meet them at a vigil scheduled for March 5 in Belleview, Washington as well. Jayapal did not return calls from this correspondent by press time.
“Thoughts & prayers to family & entire Sikh community in wake of horrific shooting. This must be investigated as #HateCrime. #NoToHate,” Jayapal tweeted. After 9/11, Jayapal founded who was founder of Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica), an organization formed after 9/11 to address backlash against immigrant communities.
The Kent incident happened in the East Hill neighborhood in Kent at around 8 pm March 3. The victim was shot in the arm, local news reports and Jasmit Singh said.
“It was very disheartening to see the news that somebody was actually a victim of a hate crime, in a city that we have never felt that before,” Satwinder Kaur, a Sikh community leader, is quoted saying in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “We open our doors to everybody, everybody is welcome to visit us,” she added.
This is not the first time that an Indian-American has been victimized because of their ethnic or racial origin. As far back as 2007, a taxi driver, Sukhvir Singh, was brutally beaten by a passenger who hurled ethnic slurs at him; he was dropping home; In October 2012, there was another attack on a Sikh cab driver in Federal Way, Washington, a Justice Department release of June 2013 says. In February 2015, a Hindu temple in Bothel, Washington was vandalized. In March 2016, a gurdwara in Spokane, Washington was vandalized.
“Yes, this recent attack is not something new,” conceded Jasmit Singh, “But the frequency is high now,” he said. “If you ask the general Sikh population about being confronted by people and abused, it has definitely increased over the last two months,” he said.
With the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, an aerospace engineer, in Olathe, Kansas Feb. 22, anxiety among Indian-Americans has risen.
“This is a very unfortunate place we are at — to come to grips with how this is all going to play out,” Jasmit Singh said. “Why is the administration not speaking up loudly and clearly?” he asked.
The larger community of Kent and Reston however, has been very responsive he said. The City Council has met Sikh leaders and community members, as have the Police Chief. A series of meetings took place March 4.
“While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority,” the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group that has worked hard and successfully over the years to get the FBI to recognize hate crimes against Sikhs in their statistics. “Tone matters in our political discourse because this is a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”Rajdeep Singh, the Sikh Coalition’s interim managing director of programs said in a statement sent to News India Times.