FBI, DOJ open civil rights probe into Sikh man's shooting

7 Mar 2017

The FBI along with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting of a Sikh man by a partially- masked gunman, who shouted "go back to your own country". Deep Rai, a US national of Indian-origin, was shot outside his home in Kent, Washington, on Friday. "The FBI's Seattle Field Office, in conjunction with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, has opened a civil rights investigation into the March 3 shooting incident in Kent, Washington," Ayn Dietrich-Williams, spokesperson of FBI Seattle Field Office, told PTI. The federal investigation is in addition to a criminal investigation being conducted by the Kent police.
The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime. "The FBI is working with the Kent Police Department and will collect all available facts and evidence to determine if there is a federal civil rights violation. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time," she said. The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity", according to the bureau's website.
Rai was released from the hospital on Sunday. Police Chief Ken Thomas said detectives have canvassed Kent's East Hill neighbourhood, where the shooting took place, and have spoken with potential witnesses and area businesses.
However, he declined to discuss any evidence detectives collected. Governor Jay Inslee, in a statement, condemned the shooting, saying "these acts of violence are hateful, detestable, and un-American". Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund (SALDEF) said, "This incident followed a surge of attacks on our communities." SALDEF said it will be launching a series of 'Know Your Rights Forums' in gurdwaras across the country beginning in Durham, North Carolina on March 26. "The purpose of forums is to (1) introduce Sikh American community members to agencies and groups that can address complaints, incidents, or issues and (2) provide local, state and federal governmental agencies the opportunity to build relationships with and address the specific needs of their local Sikh American community," SALDEF said.
The South Asian Bar Association (SABA) of North America said it was "gravely concerned about the sharp increase in racial and religiously targeted crimes throughout the country". "We call upon the federal government to take immediate public action to protect the public and denounce these heinous and bigoted acts," said Vichal Kumar, SABA North America president. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a rights organisation, alleged that President Donald Trump's "dangerous combination" of rhetoric and policies has fanned the flames of violence, including the deadly February shooting of two Indian men in Kansas and this weekend's shooting of a Sikh man in Kent, Washington. SAALT called upon the US President to immediately reverse course and end his campaign against Muslim and immigrant communities. "It is time for the White House to set the tone for our nation and turn its back on poisonous rhetoric. It is time for our nation to begin to heal from the violence," it said.
Sikh Coalition welcomed the hate crime investigation into the shooting and said the Trump administration needs to show leadership in preventing hate violence in the US. "We applaud the decision by the Kent Police Department to pursue a hate crime investigation," said Sikh Coalition Interim Programme Manager, Rajdeep Singh. "We are thankful for everything that local authorities are doing to locate the suspect and protect the Sikh community." While the Kent Police Department has moved swiftly to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, the Sikh Coalition is calling on national leaders including the Trump administration to take concrete actions to prevent future hate crimes. Deep Rai, was shot by a partially-masked gunman, who shouted "go back to your own country" is recovering from his non-life-threatening injuries. His instance is one of hundreds of Americans to be the target of bigotry, bias and backlash since November 2016, the Sikh Coalition said. "We are all accountable for what happened in Kent, Washington on Friday night," said Seattle-area community leader, Jasmit Singh. "From the gunman's family and friends who can help bring him to justice, to our elected officials who create public policy at home and in Washington DC, we all must do more to confront this growing epidemic of hate violence."
The group said that the Sikh-American community, which has been an integral part of the American fabric for over 125 years, is estimated to be hundreds of times more likely to suffer hate crimes than the average American. This is in part due to the Sikh articles of faith, including a turban and beard, which represent the Sikh religious commitment to justice, tolerance and equality. "The White House needs to show leadership in preventing hate violence," said Rajdeep Singh, Interim Managing Director of Programmes at the Sikh Coalition. "Immigrants and religious minorities are being attacked around the nation, but the Trump administration has not even created a task force to address this issue. Our national leaders must not look the other way while Americans worry about losing loved ones to hate." (PTI)