Enough is enough: Sikhs demand action against hate crime

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Members of the Sikh community gather in mourning in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Four Sikhs were among the victims of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility nearby the day before. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Megan Jelinger

From New York City through the Midwest, South, and West Coast – Indian-Americans are reeling from yet another massacre that they feel appears to have targeted those of the Sikh faith April 15, 2021, this time in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to latest news reports April 19 and 20, quoting from police documents, the killer did browse white supermacist channels online (yahoo.com).

Shock and horror among the estimated 500,000 Sikhs who call this country home, is again being followed by stock-taking and the question – Why?

Why is a community which has lived in this country for more than 100 years, seemingly still not seen as American.

Vigils and meetings are taking place around the country to mourn the death of 8 people, four of them Sikh, at the Fedex facility in Indianapolis.

At the Sikh Satsang in Indianapolis the day after the tragedy, people remembered those they lost, The Washington Post reported. They included Amarjeet Kaur Johal, a regular volunteer at the gurdwara, Jaswinder Singh, 68; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; and Amarjit Sekhon, 48.

Call For Action

The Sikh Coalition sent a letter to the President imploring him to tackle what the community feels is hate crime going “undetected and unchallenged,” the Post reported. It also urged security for places of worship including Sikh temples and other measures including appointing an Indian-American Sikh liaison, and regulations on gun sales.

The call for action comes despite a national campaign to spread awareness about the Sikh faith has been ongoing over the last few years. Leaders are disappointed and befuddled why Sikhs, who have lived in the United States for more than 100 years, are still not seen as part of the American social fabric.

One of the many vigils held around the country is in New York City.

“This vigil isn’t just a memorial for all the lives lost; it is a recommitment to fight against the hate-fueled disinformation tumor metastasizing in our nation’s brains; to fight to get guns out of people’s hands; and yes, to fight against the corporate greed that prohibited cell phones on the factory floor in the name of productivity,” Amit Bagga, candidate for New York City Council, told Desi Talk.

“From the crops of California to the industry of Indiana to the trucks and taxis of New York City, our economy is built on the labor of Sikh Americans, and, like all other immigrant groups failed by policymaking, we must now collectively fight to be at the heart of making it,” Bagga added.

The Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. put out a statement April 16, noting that it’s Consul General in Chicago Amit Kumar, was in touch with the Mayor of Indianapolis who had assured all support. “The Indianapolis police have identified the victims of the tragic shooting incident today late evening, which include persons from Indian American Sikh community. Our Consulate in Chicago is in touch with the local authorities in Indianapolis as well as the community leaders, and will render all possible assistance, as required,” the statement from the Indian Embassy said.

Aasees Kaur is a representative of the Sikh Coalition. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Megan Jelinger

One of the Indianapolis Sikh Sangat leaders, K.P. Singh questioned, “”How is it that, as a community, after being here for more than a century, we are still being targeted at different levels by fools, by people who refuse to think that we’re not part of their own family?” the Post reported.

Yet again their community has been possibly targeted because not everyone in America knows they have been here longer than or an equal time as many ethnicities/races in this country.

Police said they were still trying to figure out the motive behind why 19 -year old Brandon Scott Hole went on the shooting spree. The killer allegedly committed suicide after the killings.

In an update on April 16th afternoon, the Sikh Coalition tweeted, “We are sad to confirm that at least four of those killed in Thursday night’s attacks are members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.”

Earlier, in the afternoon of April 16, while still trying to find out the victims’ names, the Sikh Coalition put out a statement from Sikh Coalition Executive Director Satjeet Kaur which the organization sent to News India Times.

It read – “We are deeply saddened to learn that Sikh community members are among those injured and killed by the gunman in Indianapolis last night. Our hearts and prayers are with their families, and we are in touch with community leaders, government and law enforcement officials to learn more. While we don’t yet know the motive or identity of the shooter, we expect that authorities will continue to conduct a full investigation–including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Amarjeet Kaur Johal, one of the victims in the April 16, 2021 mass killing at Fedex facility in Indianapolis, with her grandchildren. Photo: courtesy of family, via Sikh Coalition

My Naniji

“I am heartbroken to confirm that my naniji (maternal grandmother), Amarjeet Kaur Johal, is among those killed in the senseless shooting at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis,” said community member Komal Chohan in a statement released by Sikh Coalition. “We are still working to identify others who were injured and killed on Thursday night. I have several family members who work at the particular facility and are traumatized. My nani, my family, and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere. Enough is enough–our community has been through enough trauma,” Chohan added.

“I have sat with families from our community and so many others at the Holiday Inn Express as they wait to hear the fates of their loved ones,” said community member Maninder Singh Walia. “These kinds of violent attacks are a threat to all of us. Our community has a long road of healing–physically, mentally, and spiritually–to recover from this tragedy.”

The day after the massacre, April 16, 2021, the Marion County Coroner’s Office (MCCC) was able to positively identify the deceased victims : Thirty two year-old Matthew R Alexander, 19-year-old Samaria Blackwell, 66-year-old Amarjeet Johal, 64-year-old Jaswinder Kaur, 68-year-old Jaswinder Singh, 48-year-old Amarjit Sekhon, 19-year-old Karlie Smith, and 74-year-old John Weisert.

Autopsies were still being conducted it indicated. The names of the seven or so wounded people were not released by the police.

A CNN report said four survivors were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds; another sought their own treatment elsewhere, and one was treated on the premises.

The possibility of this being another white supremacist hate crime appears to underlie news reports trickling in since the early morning hours after the horrific incident.

An early morning April 16, Associated Press report quoted a man outside the premises, Parminder Singh, a Sikh name, who said his niece had been shot/wounded on the arm while she was outside in the car, and was in hospital being treated.

Hole, who worked at the Fedex facility until the Fall of 2020, returned to his former workplace and began shooting indiscriminately both inside and outside the facility and four out of the eight people killed were outside the facility when they were shot to death, according to CNN.

Later the New York Times, in its report, noted that “a large number of Sikhs” worked at the Fedex facility.

Police said Hole had been interrogated in April 2020, and his premises searched.

“Based on items observed in the suspect’s bedroom at that time, he was interviewed by the FBI in April 2020,” a statement from the police said. “No Racially Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE) ideology was identified during the course of the assessment and no criminal violation was found. The shotgun was not returned to the suspect,” the statement quoted by CNN says.

But that has not convinced community members that this was not a hate crime.

According to press briefings by the Indianapolis Police Department available on the website, Hole had a rifle the make of which the police did not specify, which was used for the massacre.

Meanwhile, relatives of the employees gathered at a hotel nearby to receive updates from the police. Many had not heard from their relatives when the events transpired because of Amazon’s policy of not allowing employees to carry their cellphones into the facility. The policy has come under fire in social media and elsewhere.

In a statement the company said, “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis. Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

This tragic event evokes memories of past hate crimes involving mass killing of Sikhs that took place Aug. 5, 2012 at Wisconsin’s Oak Creek gurdwara where at least six members of the community were shot dead by White supremacist Wade Michael Page. In addition, the first person killed in the backlash to the 9/11, was a Sikh man in Arizona, Balbir Singh Sodhi.

According to the Sikh Coalition, although Sikhs began settling in Indiana more than 50 years ago, the first gurdwara was established in 1999. In the last two decades, the Sikh population around Indianapolis has experienced significant growth, the organization noted. It estimates that today, there are 10 gurdwaras across the state and an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Sikhs have made Indiana their home.

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