Assessing Victories – Arizona Governor Rightfully Vetoes Anti-Sikh Legislation

Guest blogged by Dilpreet Kaur

Mere days before Osama bin Ladens capture and death, the Arizona state legislature had set into motion legislative steps to remove a 9/11 hate crime victims name from the states memorial in Phoenix. At the time, the bills original sponsor, Rep. John Kavanaugh (R), claimed that Mr. Balbir Singh Sodhi was not a victim of 9/11. Adding insult to injury, along with stripping the late Mr. Sodhis name from the memorial, the legislation even enumerated that the removed plaque to be sold to a scrap metal dealer.

Like many others who stumbled across the news of this puzzling piece of legislation, I instantly wondered how and why something so insensitive and outrageous could pass. Four days after 9/11, on September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American, was brutally murdered outside of his Chevron gas station in Mesa, Arizona by Frank Roque, a man who wanted to kill a Muslim in retaliation for the terrorist attacks. He had selected Mr. Sodhi simply because he had a beard and wore a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith. An Arizona jury later found Frank Roque guilty of first-degree murder for his hate crime murder of Mr. Sodhi, along with five other charges, including attempted murder and reckless endangerment related to drive-by shootings at other individuals he perceived to be Middle Eastern that same day in 2001.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first of hundreds of hate-crimes against Sikh Americans and other minorities related to post-9/11 hate violence. His death as a Sikh American brought national attention to the issue of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab violence following 9/11. At the time, many Arizona state representatives and citizens of all backgrounds rallied around the Sodhi family and the Sikh American community in support, with over 3,000 people attending Mr. Sodhis memorial service.

Now ten years later, Rep. Kavanaugh stated, “It’s part of a myth that, following 9/11, Americans went into a xenophobic rage against foreigners. That’s not true. America’s reaction towards foreigners was commendable.” I cannot imagine the families of those who were murdered after 9/11 would agree that the death of their loved ones was some sort of myth. Furthermore, the foreigners that Mr. Kavanaugh referred to were fellow Americans, integral members of society who lived, worked, and raised their children in the United States.

These were individuals who were proudly living the American dream, until their existence was deemed un-American simply because of how they looked. Like Muslims and Arabs around the country, Sikh Americans were attacked twice in September 2001- first by Osama bin Laden and then by misguided Americans who took supposed revenge into their own hands. As images of a turbaned Osama bin Laden are being disseminated in the media following his death, Sikh Americans cannot help but worry about their physical safety. For instance, on May 6, 2011, CNN and Financial Times, both major news outlets, published online articles about Osama bin Laden using a completely unrelated image of a Sikh to supplement the news stories. With the help of the media, will fellow Americans grossly conflate images of turbaned extremists with Sikhs as was done immediately following the tragedy of 9/11?

The Sodhi family and members of the Sikh American community recently met with Rep. Kavanaugh, at which point he apologized for his poorly researched piece of legislation, days before the bill removing Balbir Singh Sodhi from the states memorial automatically would have effectively become law. During another meeting, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, whose office received over 7,000 messages from Americans from all backgrounds demanding that she take action, vetoed the bill as the Sodhi family watched in attendance.

Sikh Americans and citizens of Arizona were overjoyed at the Governors swift action against this silly piece of legislation. I suppose this is indeed a victory for all Americans, but the question remains: Why did this piece of legislation even come into existence and pass both houses, albeit on party line votes? That we have to celebrate such backwards victories is quite telling of how much progress still lies before minorities in America, despite having been in the United States for generations. This recent legislative victory inevitably acknowledges that many people with dark skin are still not seen as Americans by the general public; take note of the recent hate crimes against Sikh American elderly men in Sacramento and Elk Grove, CA and Brooklyn, NY. Our desire to feel some sense of closure from 9/11 is regrettably tainted by xenophobic fear and anti-immigrant anxiety of potential backlash by ignorant individuals.

Even though we have successfully elected the first African-American president of the United States, this recent legislative episode in Arizona proves that we as a minority community are still a very long way from living in a Post-Racial America.


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9 Responses to “Assessing Victories – Arizona Governor Rightfully Vetoes Anti-Sikh Legislation”

  1. Jesse Singh says:

    how did it pass both houses in az?
    -It was a small part of a much bigger bill
    -Legislators don’t read bills they vote on.

    I would be surprised if even the sponsor read the entire bill.

    At least some awareness was raised from this exercise.

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