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North America - United States - Sikhism

Fatal shooting prompts outcry among Sikhs, Muslims
Lien Hoang (AP, March 7, 2011)

Sacramento, USA - The daily stroll had become routine for two elderly Sikh men in a Sacramento suburb, as well as for neighbors and friends accustomed to seeing the men walk by with their long beards and turbans.

But the traditional headwear might have singled them out late last week when they were gunned down, one fatally, in what police are investigating as a suspected hate crime. On Monday, local religious leaders pleaded for the community to come forward with leads but also said they will not be deterred by violence.

"Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly," said Navi Kaur (NA'vee Kar), the granddaughter of Surinder Singh, 65, who died from his wounds.

His friend, 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, remains in critical condition.

They were walking through their neighborhood in Elk Grove, just south of the capital, Friday afternoon when someone in what witnesses described as a pickup truck opened fire. Police said they have no suspects nor any indication the shooting was a hate crime, but said the turbans could have made the elderly men a target of extremists.

During a news conference Monday at a Sikh temple, a spokesman said the recent violence has scared some temple-goers into concealing any indicators of their religion.

Sikhs often are mistaken for Muslims and have been the subject of occasional violence across the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The enemies of the United States don't wear turbans in the United States," said Amar Shergill, a Sikh leader and attorney. "They don't want to be singled out. The result is that Sikh Americans since 9-11 have borne the brunt of violent hate crimes."

Sikhs draw particular attention because of their traditional beards and turbans, which are mistakenly associated with Islamic terrorists. Shergill said Monday also marked the start of a trial involving another possible hate crime against a Sikh.

He is the attorney for a Sikh cab driver beaten by passengers who shouted anti-Islamic slurs at him four months ago in West Sacramento.

The Elk Grove police department said last week's shooting would be the first targeting Sikhs in the city if it turns out to be a hate crime. Police also said they would meet with FBI officials, a routine move when a hate crime is suspected.

On Monday, they said they are looking for a tan or beige Ford F150 pickup truck made between 1999 and 2003. Meanwhile, a dozen groups have collected nearly $30,000 in reward money for information about the shootings.