Sikh man shot at in U.S., told ‘go back to your own country’

Updated - November 29, 2021 01:36 pm IST

Published - March 05, 2017 08:10 am IST - Washington

File photo shows gun control activists rallying in front of the White House in Washington.

File photo shows gun control activists rallying in front of the White House in Washington.

In the third incident of violence targeting Indian-Americans in two weeks, a white man who had his face partially covered shot at 39-year-old Deep Rai on Friday night in Kent, Washington State. Mr. Rai — an American citizen and a Sikh — was hit on his arm and is out of danger, Indian officials in Washington said. The gunman yelled ‘go back to your country’ during a brief altercation with Mr. Rai, who was working on his car in his driveway, before shooting at him, according to Sikh community leaders in the area.

Indian-American convenience store owner Harnish Patel was found murdered on Thursday night in Lancaster, South Carolina, and on February 22, Indian- American engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot dead in Olathe, Kansas, and his friend Alok Madasani was injured. The Sikh community and Indian-American Congresswoman from Washington Pramila Jayapal have called for investigating the case as a hate crime. Hate crime investigations are priority for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hate crime convicts face enhanced punishment. “Thoughts and prayers to family and the entire Sikh community in the wake of the horrific shooting. This must be investigated as hate crime,” Ms. Jayapal tweeted.

“It was around 8 p.m. on Thursday. The shooter approached the victim and started cursing him, asking him to go back to his country. ‘This is my country,’ he said in response. Then the attacker tried to hit him and this led to a scuffle. The Sikh gentleman blacked out and when he woke up after a few moments, he realised he was shot at,” Jasmit Singh, a Seattle-area Sikh community leader, told The Hindu by phone. Mr. Singh said Mr. Rai has never faced any specific threat, but the general sense of anxiety among the Sikhs in the region has been heightened over the last six months or so. “We hear stories of people being stared at, made uncharitable and rude comments at,” he said.

Mr. Singh said the Kent police chief and the mayor have been extremely responsive.

“Both of them met with the Sikh community representatives yesterday and reached out to the family. But we want to tell the national leaders that silence is not acceptable,” he said, adding that the election campaign has added to the sense of insecurity in the community. The Indian community around Seattle had planned a vigil in Bellevue on Sunday in memory of Kuchibhotla. “We hope it will give us the space to discuss more about the situation in this place too,” Mr. Singh said.

“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,” said Sikh Coalition Interim Program Manager Rajdeep Singh in a statement. “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.”

“Investigating this as an anti-Sikh hate crime is critical, because without our government agencies recognizing hatred for what it is, we can’t combat the problem,” said Jasmit Singh. Kent police chief told a local newspaper that the department was investigating whether this was a possible hate crime against the Sikh community. “We’re early on in our investigation,” he said.

“It is a despicable act and it is disturbing that this comes after a series of attacks that targeted Indian-Americans,” said Jesse Singh, a Sikh community leader who worked with the Trump campaign and recited the Sikh prayer at the National Prayer Service after the presidential inauguration in January. “The President and his team are very clear that they would not tolerate any type of xenophobia. But before commenting on individual incidents they would wait for progress in police investigation,” Mr. Singh said.

Kent, near Seattle in Washington has witnessed attacks on a Hindu temple in 2015. “The shooting in Kent, Washington shares similarities with the deadly shooting in Olathe, Kansas, and follows the larger national pattern of hate violence directed at minority communities across the United States in the wake of the presidential election,” the Sikh Coalition said.

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