TRI-CITIES, Wash. (KVEW-TV) – The local Sikh community is upping outreach and vigilance amid a rise of hate crimes around the county.
Tarlok Singh Hundal has called the Tri-Cities home for nearly 40 years. Originally from the Punjab province of northwestern India, Hundal brought with him his family and skills as a structural engineer.
“[My kids] kind of grew up here in Tri-Cities,” he smiles. “[It’s] entirely different.”
A big part of Hundal’s life is his Sikh religion, displayed by an elegant red turban wrapped neatly around his head.
“Ninety-nine percent of people in the United States wearing turbans are Sikh,” he explained.
Hundal attends a Sikh congregation in Pasco alongside 70 to 80 other families.
Sikhism, a religion from India, has three main tenants according to Hundal: Honest living, worship the Lord, and share belongings with those in need.
However, in recent weeks, the Sikh community has been shaken.
A Sikh man in Kent was shot in his own driveway Friday, his attacker still on the run as of Tuesday.
Police said hate may have been the motivation.
"Some comments were made to the effect of, 'Get out of our country. Go Back to where you're from,” a Kent PD spokesperson said. “And then our victim was shot."
The Kent case is similar to another at a bar in Kansas in February. An armed man allegedly shot and killed one Indian man and injured another.
Witnesses said they heard the accused gunman say, “Get out of my country,” before firing.
“We are misidentified,” Hundal said. “And that's why we're having this kind of problem.”
He says his community is often mistaken for Islamic extremists because of the turbans men wear. However, Sikh is a different religion, and the turbans worn differently.
Hundal said in its own way, Sikhism is focused on equality and peace.
“All those people wearing turbans…displayed on the TV,” he said, referring to the Taliban. “It is those fundamentalists who twist things around."
The problem is growing for minority groups around the country.
Since November, the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted more than 1,300 cases of hateful harassment and intimidation incidents, including about 100 bomb threats to Jewish communities.
“Feels really bad, because what's happening here in the United States,” Hundal said. “It can be mitigated by educating the public.”
For the first time in Hundal’s four decades in the Tri-Cities, he said he saw a shift.
In late February, someone left a threatening note and dirty diaper pinned to the door of a Sikh family in Richland.
"I'm watching you, be careful, that kind of thing,” Hundal read aloud, pointing to a picture of the note, the words “You are in danger” also visible.
While he expressed hope the note was prank, Hundal said it was upsetting as the first time his local community was targeted.
“Even after 9-11 happened, nobody,” he said, shaking his head. "This [Tri-Cities] community is very, very understanding and very educated and respectful…[But] what happened in Kent could happened here, too.”
Hundal now hopes spreading awareness of the religion will boost local understanding.
"We believe in one God, and we believe in equality for all,” he said. “Do not discriminate against any religion, origin, or race, including gender."
He emphasized the Pasco temple is open to anyone who wants to learn about Sikhism.
“It has four doors. That signifies that people of all directions can come there.”
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