Shocking news has come out of Elk Grove, California (a suburb of Sacramento), where two elderly Sikh men were shot on the street while out on an afternoon walk:
Police said Saturday that they don’t know why someone gunned down two men – frail from heart attacks and advancing years – as they slowly ambled through a quiet Elk Grove neighborhood during their daily afternoon walk.
Surinder Singh, 67, died Friday afternoon on the sidewalk along East Stockton Boulevard near Geneva Pointe Drive. Gurmej Atwal, his 78-year-old friend, was shot twice in the chest. His family said he was in critical but stable condition.
The police have not identified suspects nor a motive, but have not ruled out that this was a hate crime.
Personally, this is especially chilling news. A month ago, as my own elderly father was on his daily walk, an object was thrown from a passing car that just brushed my father’s arm. Laughing teenagers in the vehicle indicated that this was not a random act, and we can only assume that he was targeted on the basis of his appearance – he wears a turban and full beard, not unlike that of the victims of Friday’s tragic attack. The magnitude of this tragedy has hit very close to home. It is hard to not live in fear given what happened to Friday’s victims.
It is crushing to think about what the families of these elderly men must be going through.
Let us also not forget that it was also in Sacramento only several months ago that two men were charged with hate crimes after beating an older Sikh cab driver.
Valarie Kaur, film-maker and producer of the post-9/11 documentary Divided We Fall, puts Friday’s tragic shootings into the context of the hateful rhetoric that is becoming more commonplace and institutionalized in this society:
This news comes in a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric is once again reaching a fevered pitch. A few weeks ago, protesters screamed “terrorists” at Muslim children walking to a charity fundraiser. Last week, Tennessee legislators proposed a bill that would essentially criminalize Islam in the state. Last year, following the Park51 firestorm, mosques in Tennessee, Oregon, and Georgia reported arson. And next week, Peter King holds a Congressional hearing investigating the loyalty and “radicalization” of American Muslims. Our culture treats Muslims and anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, including Sikh Americans, as perpetually foreign, automatically suspect and potentially terrorist.
We can only pray for solace for Surinder Singh’s family, that Gurmej Atwal fully recovers from his injuries, and that the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to swift justice to the fullest extent of the law.
UPDATE (March 7, 2011) – Elk Grove Police have identified and are in search of a suspect vehicle: a 1999 to 2003 Ford F-150 pickup-truck. Rewards totalling $30,000 have been offered by the Sikh community, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Elk Grove Police for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the shootings.