9/11 Hate Victim’s Name to Stay on Arizona Memorial

Gov. Brewer vetoed a bill that would have removed hate crime victim Balbir Singh Sodhi's name from a 9/11 memorial.

By Asraa Mustufa May 03, 2011

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill on Friday that would have removed 11 phrases from a state memorial meant to commemorate the victims of 9/11. Among the phrases was the name of America’s first post 9/11 fatal hate crime victim, Balbir Singh Sodhi.

Singh Sodhi was a Sikh man who was murdered outside his Mesa gas station on September 15, 2001. He was targeted for wearing a turban, which his murderer had mistook for Muslim or Arab garb. The controversial House Bill 2230 was proposed by Arizona Rep. John Kavanagh of anti-birthright citizenship fame. Kavanagh felt that the memorial should include only victims of the events of 9/11, not the aftermath.

But after the bill received widespread criticism, Kavanagh met with Singh Sodhi’s familiy and Sikh community members late last month and changed his mind, promising to propose a follow-up bill in the next legislative session that would put Singh Sodhi’s name back on the memorial, should Brewer sign HB 2230 into law. Kavanagh also said he was more concerned about political statements on the memorial which he viewed as "America bashing" when he proposed the overhaul.

Brewer invited Singh Sodhi’s family to her office when she vetoed the bill. "In recent days, I have heard concerns from some of the Arizona families directly affected by the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath," she wrote in the veto letter. "For their sake, I am sorry this issue has reared its head once more."

Asian community members, the 9/11 Commission that planned the memorial, the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona, and former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who prosecuted the case against Singh Sodhi’s murderer, all came out against the bill. The Sikh civil rights and educational group SALDEF circulated a petition, resulting in over 7,500 letters being sent to Brewer’s office in three days.

"It is vital that the Arizona September 11, 2001 commemorative monument continue to serve as a forewarning that backlash is an ‘after effect of an attack’," Sikh community leader and activist Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa said. "Blacklash murders are the invisible casualties of September 11th. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first such death categorized as a hate crime."

Singh Sodhi’s family members said they felt re-victimized by the bill, a decade after the national tragedy and the death of Balbir, but now feel relieved.

"My brother was killed because of the way he looked and our articles of Sikh faith," Balbir’s brother Rana Singh Sodhi told the Punjab Newsline Network. "Today, as we head into the tenth anniversary of 9/11 the world is again watching and together as an entire community we reinforced no backlash, no hate, don’t target."