For decades, Sikhs in the United States have been sending two messages to the world whenever they’ve been the targets of Islamophobia.
a) Hate crimes against Muslims or any other group are deplorable and antithetical to both the peaceful teachings of Sikhism and the values on which the United States was founded.
b) We’re an entirely different religion, by the way.
Some people apparently are not getting either message.
Take what happened at the Best Stop convenience store in Livingston Parish, La., just east of Baton Rouge. The store, owned by an Indian immigrant who is Sikh, has a piece of plywood covering what used to be a plate-glass window and a rattled cashier behind the counter.
About 20 minutes after Harjot Singh, the nephew of the store’s owner, closed the store Saturday night, a man plowed his pickup truck through the window.
Police say the man behind the wheel was Chad Horsley, a former reserve sheriff’s deputy from Denham Springs, La. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
“According to Horsley, he was under the impression the owners were Muslim,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release posted on Facebook. “He blamed Muslims for killing his fellow service members overseas.”
But he had other gripes, the sheriff’s office said.
“He was also upset that Muslims, in his mind, were having an easier time prospering than he was despite his time in the service.”
Horsley joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 2014, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. And he had served as a deputy in nearby East Baton Rouge Parish, both full time and as a reserve, for six years, starting in 2010.
After the incident at the Best Stop, Horsley was charged with a hate crime, criminal damage to property, criminal mischief and two counts of impersonating a peace officer. He was released on $56,000 bail.
Investigators called the case “a bizarre one.” They said Horsley had been in the store the week before and he claimed that “he worked for a Sheriff’s Office and suspected the cashier of dealing drugs from the store.” Police said Horsley told the clerk he would be back around midnight to search the store and that the clerk should “make sure no one was around.”
Instead, the clerk called the sheriff’s office, which warned the public to be on the lookout for the 5-foot-9 man who was making threats and probably impersonating a police officer.
But the man wasn’t seen again until Saturday, authorities say, when his pickup came barreling through the store’s window.
Authorities said he at first claimed to be a witness to the crime but later told them that he was involved — and railed about Muslims.
“Even if it was Muslims, he shouldn’t have done that thing,” Singh, the clerk on duty at the time, told the Advocate. Singh emigrated from India two years ago. “We’re just trying to make a living out of here; that’s all we’re doing.”
The Council for American-Islamic Relations condemned the act.
“We thank local law enforcement officials for their prompt and professional response to this disturbing incident, which is apparently another example of the growing Islamophobia targeting American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim,” said CAIR’s national communications director, Ibrahim Hooper.
Still, Hooper said, “an individual charged with such serious crimes should not have been released on bail before trial.”
Sikhs in the United States have been fighting the battle for decades — being persecuted for someone else’s religion.
Followers of the monotheistic faith, which originated in South Asia in the 15th century, have been on the receiving end of xenophobic intolerance since they began arriving in the Pacific Northwest to fill logging jobs in the early 20th century, according to Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“Pretty immediately after our arrival in this country, we became targets of xenophobia,” Singh said in a recent interview. “Hate violence has ebbed and flowed throughout our history in America, but being targets of racism is nothing new. It’s part of our history here.”
That intimidation intensified in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment washed over the country, leading some to confuse the long beards and turbans worn by many Sikh men as a representation of Islam. Others viewed it simply as an opportunity to attack individuals they perceived as being “un-American.”