NEW YORK – Two Sikh men were shot dead in California, this past week, with one of the deaths being ruled a homicide and could turn out to be a hate crime, with a suspect yet to be named, while the police have identified suspects in the other case.
Police are investigating the death of a 68-year-old Sikh man, Subag Singh, found in a canal last Monday morning in Fresno, California.
Reports said he was last seen walking away from his house on the morning of July 23.
Authorities said Subag Singh was wearing a ramal, a bandana-style head covering often worn to the gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, when he disappeared, reported NBC News.
Singh’s body, discovered in the canal by an employee of Fresno Irrigation, showed visible signs of trauma, which prompted the Sheriff’s homicide team to investigate, according to the statement from the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office.
Tony Botti, a spokesperson for the sheriff, told NBC News in an email that Singh’s death was not currently being considered a hate crime, though that could change depending on the results of their investigation.
Deep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement, a national Sikh youth organizing and advocacy nonprofit founded in Fresno, told NBC News it was too early to tell whether Subag Singh’s death was a crime motivated by hate.
“I tend to be on the cautious side of these things,” he said. “But at the same time there have been a number of hate crimes against Sikhs in the region,” Deep Singh added.
Over the years, Sikhs have found themselves the target of hate crimes amid anti-Muslim sentiment since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Since 9/11, federal authorities have investigated more than 800 incidents against Sikhs, Muslims, South Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and others perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin, according the U.S. Justice Department. Those cases have involved violence, threats, arson, and vandalism.
One that continues to weigh on the minds of Sikhs everywhere is the 2012 massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, which killed six. The fifth anniversary of that shooting rampage will be remembered on Aug. 5.
In an effort to raise awareness about an often misunderstood religion, the nonprofit National Sikh Campaign launched a “We are Sikhs” campaign in April, which included advertisements on television.
In Fresno, a city with a large Sikh population roughly 200 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Deep Singh said there is a sense of apprehension when it comes to the elder members of their community, like their grandparents.
“There’s a higher proportion in that population that would carry the visual iconographic symbols of the Sikh faith (beard and turban),” he said. “I think, secondly, should something happen, they would have very few tools. They oftentimes don’t speak English well. And just physically, it’s easier to assault one.”
But Singh emphasized that fear doesn’t pervade Fresno’s Sikh community.
“If anything, there just becomes a sense of anger, especially amongst the younger generation,” he said.
In the other case, Simranjeet Singh, 20, was shot dead last Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. at Florin Chevron gas station in Sacramento, California, where he worked as a clerk part-time.
Having moved to the United States two years ago in October of 2015, to study engineering at American River College, Singh lived with the eldest of his three sisters, Harpinder Kaur and her husband Hartejpreet Chauhan.
“He was in the wrong place at wrong time,” Hartejpreet, who also owns a gas station in California, told the Hindustan Times.
According to a Sacramento Bee report, a gas station employee had gone out to the parking lot to clean the property when a few men started loitering and began assaulting him verbally.
The verbal attacked turned physical and the employee went in to call 911.
A few minutes later, Singh, who was not aware of the fight, went out to throw away the garbage and the drunk men shot him and fled the scene, leaving his lifeless body.
The Hindustan Times reported that Singh was from Mohali, where his youngest sister currently lives and was the son of Ranjit Singh Bhangoo and Manjit Kaur who were staying with Singh’s sister, Rajwinder Kaur in New Zealand at the time of the incident.
Singh’s body is expected to reach Mohali by Saturday where all formalities will be done on time.
“He was a very nice guy. I’m crying for him,” Majur Kaler, a community member and owner of a liquor store next to the gas station, told Sacramento-based KCRA-TV.
Hartejpreet told the Hindustan Times that they were originally planning to travel the U.S., but now they will be going to India instead.
Sacramento County police have already arrested 40-year-old Alexander Lopez already and are still looking for 23-year-old Rodolfo Zavala and 15-year-old Ramon Zavala.