Deadly Shooting of Sikh Men Rocks Calif. Community

Sacramento police are investigating the shootings of Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal as hate crimes.

By Julianne Hing Mar 09, 2011

The families and neighbors of Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal say that the two Sikh men were old friends and had a custom of going for an evening stroll around their Sacramento, California, neighborhood. Last Friday’s was the friends’ last.

Singh, 67 years old, was shot and killed and 78-year-old Atwal was shot twice and left in critical condition. Singh died on the sidewalk. Police are investigating the shootings as a hate crime in the absence of any other apparent motive. Witnesses say the men were shot at from a person inside a pickup truck, the AP reported. Authorities say that the men’s traditional turbans and beards may have made them an attractive target for the hate crime.

The shootings have left the Sikh community reeling, but defiant. At a press conference earlier this week, Singh’s granddaughter Navi Kaur told the crowd, "Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly," the AP reported.

The Sikh community in Sacramento, California, has pulled together $30,000 that they say they will give to anyone who can provide information about the deadly shootings.

In the wake of Sept. 11, Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims, have dealt with a rise in hate crimes and assaults, racial profiling and bullying.

The AP reports that the latest shootings have unsettled the local community:

During a news conference Monday at a Sikh temple, a spokesman said the recent violence has scared some temple-goers into concealing any indicators of their religion.

Sikhs often are mistaken for Muslims and have been the subject of occasional violence across the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The enemies of the United States don’t wear turbans in the United States," said Amar Shergill, a Sikh leader and attorney. "They don’t want to be singled out. The result is that Sikh Americans since 9-11 have borne the brunt of violent hate crimes."

Groups like the civil rights advocacy organization Sikh Coalition have been clear about condemning Islamophobia that targets many groups–Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and everyone who’s perceived to be–who are lumped together and targeted. According to a Sikh Coalition report released last December, one out of every 10 Sikh-Americans in the Bay Area report being the victim of a hate crime.

Law enforcement officers have asked folks with information about the shooting to call Crime Alert at (916) 443-4357 or the Elk Grove Police Department at (916) 714-5115.