“I apologized”: Arizona lawmaker backs down on removal of slain Sikh’s name from 9/11 memorial

Balbir Singh Sodhi

(photo: sikhiwiki.org)

On September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed outside of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona.  His murder was one of the first post-9/11 hate crimes in the United States.  His murderer, Frank Roque (who mistook Balbir Singh as an Arab), is currently serving a life sentence for the crime. Balbir Singh’s death was a turning point for Sikhs in this country, who since that day have undertaken significant efforts to bring about more Sikh awareness in the United States, as well as to become more proactive about civil rights for all minorities.

However, it has become clear that even where it pertains to Balbir Singh’s murder, Sikhs must continue to bring awareness about why it happened so that it is not forgotten.

Almost 10 years later, Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh introduced a bill in the state’s legislature that sought to remove the name of Balbir Singh from the state’s memorial to 9/11:

The bill, which passed both houses on party-line votes, was sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said Monday that he did only a cursory Internet search on Singh Sodhi’s murder. Kavanagh said it was unclear to him that the shooting was directly related to 9/11…

“He was the victim of a madman. He was not a 9/11 victim,” Kavanagh said. “I don’t mean to (dismiss) what happened to this individual. I don’t mean to trivialize it.”

Yesterday, the news of this bill brought forth a response from SALDEF (the Sikh American Legal Defense Fund), who created a petition in support of retaining Balbir Singh’s name on the memorial:

Arizona Representative John Kavanagh introduced the bill because Sodhi “was not a 9/11 victim.” In fact, Mr. Kavanagh believes the tragic hate crime was unconnected to 9/11. SALDEF is outraged at the disrespect the Arizona state legislature has shown Mr. Sodhi’s memory, family, and the Sikh American community. The efforts by Mr. Kavanaugh and his colleagues to deny the fact that Mr. Sodhi’s murder was a consequence of 9/11 is completely unfounded, unacceptable, and shows a complete failure in leadership.

Kavanagh apparently was not well-informed (and was not diligent in informing himself) of the circumstances of Balbir Singh’s death. However, in the last day, Kavanagh reportedly seems to have had a change of heart after meeting with Balbir Singh’s family:

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, also said he agreed to a plan that would put Singh Sodhi’s name back on the memorial even if Gov. Jan Brewer signs his bill into law…

But he said the new wording describing Singh Sodhi’s murder would be more specific, dropping the phrase “fear of foreigners” and replacing it with “First backlash hate-crime murder victim.”

Singh Sodhi, a Sikh and Mesa gas-station owner, was gunned down four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His killer mistook him for an Arab.

“I apologized for dredging up the sorrow once again. I apologized for any misunderstanding,” Kavanagh said.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has until Monday to veto the original bill.


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