A Sikh man was shot at and wounded in his driveway in Kent, Washington, by a masked assailant who then called out to him to “go back to your own country”, a variation of the last words Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla heard at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, last month in a hate-crime murder that shook up both the US and India.
The Kent shooting took place at 8:00 pm, according to local police. The assailant walked up to the victim, a 39-year-old Sikh who was working on his car in the driveway. They had an argument that ended with the shooter opening fire, and telling him to return to his country.
The shooter, who wore a mask covering the lower portion of his face, had not been identified till the filing of this report and the local police were reported to have sought the FBI’s help in investigating the case, which appeared to be a hate crime.
“We’re early on in our investigation,” Kent police chief Ken Thomas told Seattle Times. “We are treating this as a very serious incident.”
The victim, identified by Indian authorities as Deep Rai, was shot in the arm and was released from hospital after treatment. He and his family are obviously shaken, as is the community.
There has been many hate-crime attacks against Sikhs in America, with Balbir Singh Sandhu becoming the first victim of a backlash in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks carried out by men from the Middle East.
Sandhu was killed outside his gas station in Messa, Arizona by man who mistook for a Middle-Easterner because of his turban which resembled headgear worn in that region.
Six Sikhs were gunned down in a gurudwara in Wisconsin in 2013 by a white supremacist. And members of the community have complained of suffering slurs and hateful behaviour all around the country, with some having to relocate to end the harassment.
On Thursday, a 43-year-old Indian-origin store owner in South Carolina, Harnish Patel was shot dead outside his home, although the county sheriff said this “may not be a hate crime”.
The Sikh community is fighting back by launching efforts to address the problem, which, in part stems from misconceptions about its religion and, in a large part, its identity. The Sikh Coalition is an advocacy group that works with the FBI in fighting this hostility.
“While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority,” Rajdeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition said in a statement. “Tone matters in our political discourse because this is a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”
That was a guarded reference to the divisiveness that has swept the United States since the election of President Donald Trump in November, with an immediate and perceptible rise in attacks against minority communities such Jews, blacks, Hispanics and now Indians and Sikhs.
Kuchibhotla was killed by a man who mistook him for middle-eastern — in fact he allegedly told a bartender who gave him up to the police — he had shot two men from Iran, one of the seven countries on Trump’s travel ban.
The second victim was Alok Madasani, who suffered minor injuries, while a third man, a white American, Ian Grillot was shot and wounded badly when he tried to intervene.
Trump denounced the Kansa shooting and all instance of hate-crimes in his maiden speech to the joint session of congress, but, as the Sikh Coalition’s Singh said, American leaders need to “make hate crime prevention a top priority”.