by Heeya Firdaus
Image: The American Bazaar
Mere days after the cherished Sikh festival, “Vaisakhi”, four members of the Sikh community lost their lives to a shooting in Indianapolis that left eight dead and several others injured. The shooting occurred on April 15th when the gunman entered a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. The devastating incident was a massive blow to the Sikh community as they once again felt a sense of loss, frustration, and helplessness that they were all too familiar with.
(Trigger Warning – mentions of death, violence, and suicide)
Given the well-established culture of racism that has sadly come to characterize much of American society and the robust history of Anti-Sikh hate, it is only natural for the Sikh community to feel targeted once again. For too long, the community has fought against attempts to erase, Americanize or misclassify their culture and unique problems. Often, their ethnic identity has even been sidelined or excluded from the larger Asian-American narrative. With the clear presence of an anti-Sikh trend that has continued to ravage the community, the possibility of the shooting being a hate crime is not a far-fetched theory.
Authorities revealed that the attacks were committed by a 19 year old man named Brandon Hole. Hole had been questioned just a year ago by the police when his mother raised alarm that he intended to commit “suicide by cop”. To commit “suicide by cop” means to deliberately engage in activities that would provoke a response from law enforcement likely leading to his death. Although Hole displayed obvious traits of mental issues and tendencies towards unlawful and violent actions, the authorities took no definitive action at that time.
Additionally, Hole had legally purchased the rifles he used in the shooting mere months after a shotgun was seized from his home by the police.
Hole was an employee of the same FedEx facility where the shooting occured. With 90% of the employees being of a Sikh descent, the motives of Hole’s attacks are hard to separate from racist desires. Such clear and disturbing gray areas in the case make the need for an investigation into the racial aspects even more crucial.
Harassment of Sikhs can be traced back to the early 1900s when they first began immigrating to the US and were repeatedly misidentified as Hindus. They were subjected to xenophobic discrimination as the largely Caucasian population feared a decline in employment opportunities due to the influx of immigrants. The Bellingham Riots of 1907 are testament to this early wave of anti-Sikh hate.
Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Sikh Community in the United States has been victim to relentless hate crimes, with as many as 44 separate attacks being recorded against Sikhs. The FBI Database suggests that Sikhs in 2018 suffered the fifth largest number of hate crimes classified under US law. As grim as these numbers are, what’s even more troubling is that the actual numbers are probably even higher since most these crimes were misclassified as “anti-Muslim” instead of “anti-Sikh” attacks. It wasn’t until after the 2012 Wisconsin Gurdwara mass shooting that the FBI began to track anti-Sikh hate crimes.
The Indianapolis attack comes as a wound of dismay to the larger Asian-American community all of whom are still reeling under the effects of the Atlanta shooting and other anti-Asian attacks that saw an upsurge during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Sikh and AAPI, communities along with several influential lawmakers in the Congress, have called for a fair and thorough investigation of the matter including the possibility of racial motives. Although the motives of the shooter are still inconclusive as per the official investigation, a demand to investigate the role of racial issues is anything but an unwarranted one.
Unfortunately, the response from law enforcement has been anything but comforting as they continue to tactfully sideline the conversation about anti-Sikh violence. A joint statement issued by eight Indianapolis Gurdwaras reads, “Given everything our community has experienced in the past-the pattern of violence, bigotry, and backlash we have faced – it is impossible not to feel that same pain and targeting in this moment. We expect that the authorities will continue their full investigation and share what they learn when they can, and they will take this into account.”
The ongoing investigation is a time of grave uncertainty for the Sikh community who hope that their concerns will not be brushed aside. At a time like this, it is important for Asian Americans, allies, as well as South Asians residing in their native countries to stand in solidarity with the Sikh community.
The larger AAPI community must now strive to make the Sikh community feel like they have a sense of belonging, ensure their voices are amplified, their platform is secured, and their concerns are shared by the community. It is crucial to ensure that their narrative is not excluded from the event that has so deeply impacted them and that their concerns are given equal importance when it comes to discussing the motives of the shooting.
It is the responsibility of the AAPI community and its allies to generate and maintain the conversation about anti-Sikh hate so that the racial concerns are not downplayed and there is pressure on authorities to remain aware of the community’s concerns. It is important to prevent the further normalisation of merciless violence motivated by bigotry and ambiguous legislation. In order to do that, authorities must acknowledge the sheer scale of racially motivated violence in the country that they have so far tried to exclude from conversations. The first step towards ensuring there is acknowledgement and accountability from law enforcement regarding hate crimes perpetrated against the Sikh community is to make them aware that an entire community is watching. Why the Indianapolis shooting reopened old wounds for the Sikh community.