American Turban

Oak Creek’s “person of interest” and the stigma of suspicion

Photo of "Eric" was distributed to worldwide media following the Sikh temple massacre. (source: Fox News)

“Photo of Eric was distributed to worldwide media following the Sikh temple massacre.” (source: Fox News)

Shortly after the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara on August 5, the photo above of a man who was at the scene after the shooting was circulated by law enforcement as a “person of interest”:

The tall, muscular man, with a tattoo on his biceps and wearing a pair of dark shades seemed out of place — even suspicious — to some, as he briefly watched and even videotaped the aftermath of the shooting, which left six dead. At a press conference the next morning, police distributed a photo another bystander took of the mystery man. They described him as a person of interest they were trying to locate and interview.

His story is an interesting one.  Due to his unique appearance in that setting, and based on the description of the shooter, this person named “Eric” was sought out by law enforcement afterwards even though he apparently did nothing wrong.  As an innocent bystander, he was cleared of any crime, but even today still feels the stigma of suspicion based on his characteristics.
Eric’s story parallels the post-9/11 experiences of religious and ethnic minorities who have been struggling with profiling issues for over a decade:

Nearly three weeks after the shooting, Eric still wonders what strangers are thinking when their gazes linger a moment too long. But he hopes with time, the notoriety he never asked for will die down.

It’s an interesting irony that he echoes the hopes of many such innocent people, such as Sikhs, who have been stigmatized by the actions of extremists as well.

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