Today marks the 10th anniversary of the first murder victim due to post-9/11 backlash. On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed outside of his Mesa, Arizona, gas station in a misguided attempt at retaliation for the attacks on September 11.
The East Valley Tribune reported that the gunman, Frank Roque , shouted ”I stand for America all the way,” as he was handcuffed. Roque was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the hate crime.
“Sodhi‟s memory stands as a testament to the impact of the attacks on all Americans,” the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) said in a statement.
SALDEF provides a brief biography of Sodhi:
Balbir Singh Sodhi was the oldest of five brothers. Mr. Sodhi immigrated to the United States from India in 19885 to realize the American dream. He joined his brother Harjit Sodhi in Los Angeles, CA, where he worked at a 7-Eleven for several years until he moved to Walnut Creek, CA to become a cab driver. He had moved to Mesa a year prior to his death, bought a house, and the gas station across the street. “He worked 12, 14 hours a day,” said his brother Harjit, “and he saved his pennies.”
Mr. Sodhi was a husband and a father of two daughters. Mr. Sodhi was “known by friends and neighbors as a quiet, gentle man….Children have told reporters how Balbir Singh would let them buy candy from his store, even if they didn‟t have enough money. The homeless shed tears as they recounted tales of his generosity to them.” Many Arizona state representatives and citizens of all backgrounds rallied around the Sodhi family and the Sikh American community in support, with over 3,000 people attending Mr. Sodhi‟s memorial service.
A year later, Mr. Sodhi‟s brother was shot and killed in a suspected hate crime.
In April 2011 Rep. John Kavanaugh (R) introduced a bill that proposed removing Balbir Singh Sodhi‟s name from the state‟s 9/11 Memorial on the grounds that he was not a victim of the 9/11 attacks. The Arizona legislature passed the bill but Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on April 29, 2011.