On Friday, two frail and elderly Sikh men were gunned down in cold blood as they went for a walk in a suburb of Sacramento.
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 [link]
The police are looking for a tan pickup seen leaving the scene and nearly $30,000 in reward money has been pledged by different community groups. One of the first to step forward with $5,000 was the Sacramento chapter of CAIR; I only hope members of the Sikh community will be willing to do the same in return.
Authorities have admitted that they have no other motive for the crime (they weren’t robbed, they didn’t pick a fight at the club the night before, they weren’t kingpins of organized crime families), so it looks very likely that this was a hate crime. The FBI have been contacted, and hopefully will be investigating.
What boggles my mind is both the kind of coward who would shoot two old men (both heart attack survivors and frail) and the kind of virulent hatred which would motivate them to single out these two men, in broad daylight, in a quiet suburb. What kind of twisted person would think this was a good thing to do?
Every time I hear about a hate crime incident, a little bit of my naive belief in the American dream dies. I was involved in outreach and education long before 9/11, I’ve spent years of my life doing it, but the kind of person who would pull a trigger is also not the kind of person who cares who Sikhs are, or what Sikhs believe, or even whether Sikhs are the same or different from Muslims. We are simply the other, an amorphous mess of browness that spans the world (somehow including President Obama), and we are all threats.
There’s something in particular about this crime which hurts more than others, which makes it more personal. My grandparents came from India when I was a kid, and every day they would go for a walk in a nearby park. I know how these two old men must have shuffled slowly around their suburb, I can imagine the way the car screeched to a halt (something which has happened to me many times), the insults that may have been thrown at them, and the sound of the gunshots. All my grandparents are dead, but these men were somebody’s grandparents, men who came half way around the world, and whose quiet peaceful retirement was interrupted by the bang and flash of a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun. I just can’t understand it.