Sikhs challenging racial profiling

Photo courtesy of the Sikh Coalition

My Facebook news feed and email inbox have been buzzing with discussion and calls to action to challenge racial profiling and, in particular, the NYPD’s infamous “stop and frisk” policy. I was happy to receive multiple emails today on the issue from Sikh American civil rights organizations, namely SALDEF and the Sikh Coalition. I’ve previously written about my own experiences with racial/religious profiling in NYC and the importance for us Sikhs to make the connection between the profiling we face post-9/11 and the profiling young black and Latinos have been enduring for decades.

Encouraging the NY Sikh community to attend a massive silent march this Sunday (father’s day, not coincidentally), the Sikh Coalition’s email alert stated:

In the post 9/11 era, Sikhs know all too well the consequences of racial profiling. We have felt the violence of profiling at airports; it is humiliating. It is a violation of our civil rights and it severely undermines our liberty and our safety.

As Sikhs, we have an obligation to stand for the human rights of all people. It is important that we uphold this sacred commitment as African American and Latino communities endure the type of unfair scrutiny that leads to hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and profiling.

What a breath of fresh air it is to read these words of solidarity, embodying sarbat da bhala, from one of our major Sikh organizations in the United States. Indeed, while the problems we Sikh Americans encounter when it comes to law enforcement are qualitatively different than the severe repression and brutality that our black and Latino brothers (and sometimes sisters) face on a daily basis, we have a common enemy: racial profiling. The same enemy that our Muslim neighbors who are being spied while praying face. The same enemy that the 350,743 black New Yorkers who were stopped and frisked by the NYPD in 2011 faced. The same enemy that the 223,740 Latino New Yorkers who were stopped and frisked by the NYPD in 2011 faced. (Blacks and Latinos combined made up a whopping 84% of those stopped by the NYPD last year. 88% of those stopped and frisked did not lead to arrests or tickets of any kind).

The same enemy 23-year-old Amadou Diallo who was murdered by 41 NYPD bullets after he took out his wallet to show police his ID faced.

While the extra turban pat-down at the airport is an unnecessary, discriminatory, and humiliating practice (in my case 99% of the time I go through security), our black and Latino neighbors face the wrath of our common enemy in a horrific, violent way I cannot even begin to comprehend. Living in the predominantly black neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I am well aware that my South Asian and Sikh identities shield me from the daily police harassment that many of my young neighbors face. And yet I see my neighbor’s struggle as one that is intimately connected to my own and to our collective struggle as Sikhs.

As historian Vijay Prashad said in a talk I attended of his last week, “Solidarity is not built out of equivalence, its built on a deep understanding of difference and specificity.” I agree and would add that it is built for us Sikhs as a spiritual necessity; empathy and compassion necessitate action, and for me, this action is an essential way to come closer to Waheguru.

SALDEF and the Sikh Coalition have suggested we send a letter to Congress urging them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which you can do by clicking here. If you live in the New York area, take to the streets this Sunday at 2:30PM in Harlem. You can find more information here.




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4 Responses to “Sikhs challenging racial profiling”

  1. missing the picture says:

    Solidarity with police who try to protect people from violence by putting themselves on the line and too often are treated so badly by a society glorifying thuggery and opposition for its own sake.

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