Arizona shooting of Sikh highlights prejudice
Thursday, 22 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
WASHINGTON: The shooting of a Sikh in Arizona, in what is widely seen as a hate crime, has once again highlighted the prevailing prejudice against people wearing turbans in the United States. "We condemn hate in all forms," said Rajwant Singh, national chairman of the Sikh Council on Education and Religion (SCORE), saying he wanted to take the case to the White House to highlight the issue of targeting and intolerance of Sikh Americans, who number 500,000 in the U.S., since 9/11. "We were concerned about the increase in discrimination in our neighbourhoods, on our jobs and against our families since 9/11," said Rajwant Singh in a statement. He was reacting to Monday's attack on Avtar Singh Cheira, 52, in north Phoenix, Arizona, in an apparent hate crime. Cheira, a truck driver who has lived in the U.S. for the past 18 years, was shot at twice by men in a red pickup near Ninth Street and Bell Road in north Phoenix, police said. The Indian immigrant was wearing a turban as he waited for his family to pick him up from work at around 9:20 p.m. that night. Minutes before the shooting Cheira said he heard a voice say: "Go back to where you belong to". Cheira was hit twice in the legs with bullets from a small-calibre gun. His youngest son found him and called an ambulance, police said. "There is no doubt this is a hate crime," said Phoenix police detective Tony Morales. "To think that this kind of ignorance is still out there and can fuel such an ugly racist action is just appalling." The shooting is the second in the area targeting a member of the Sikh community since the September 11, 2001, attacks, according to media reports here. On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, was fatally shot at his Mesa gas station, also in Arizona. Police think his killer mistakenly believed Sodhi was an Arab and shot him simply because of the turban he wore as part of his Sikh faith. The suspect, Frank Silva Roque, 43, is scheduled for trial on June 24. The police have no suspects in Cheira's case. Harjit Sodhi, Balbir Singh Sodhi's cousin, said he suspected Cheira also was a victim of "mistaken identity". "There is prejudice against people from Iraq or Afghanistan," and because the Sikhs wear turbans and have beards they are mistaken for immigrants from these two countries, according to Sodhi, a 38-year-old pharmacy technician. "We appreciate the efforts of President (George W.) Bush in the war against terrorism and trying to save the lives of all Americans. Now we are hopeful that the administration will continue in its effort to end the negative profiling against Sikh Americans just as it had done in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. "The Sikh community in the U.S. and around the world also appeals to President Bush to call upon his fellow Americans to exercise the tolerance and respect for diversity which are hallmarks of our society," the statement by Rajwant Singh said.