The murder of a Sikh liquor store clerk in Fresno Calif. was the first murder of the year, and authorities are investigating the crime as a possible hate crime. Although Gurcharan Singh Gill, 68, a Sikh of Punjabi origin, did not wear the traditional turban, it is believed that religion is the reason for all this.
This is the second Sikh attack since Christmas. The confusion arises when anti-Muslim bigots think Sikhs are Muslims, because they often do wear turbans and grow beards. The Fresno teen attacker waited outside of the store where Gill worked until it was emptied of customers, then he walked inside and lured Gill toward him before stabbing him multiple times.
Police chief, Jerry Dyer, said that a person who could kill so viciously poses a danger to all. After the knifing, Gill’s attacker tried to break into the cash register, but failed. He stole a few items, but Fresno Police Chief Dyer said that it was clear the teen’s primary objective was trying to kill the clerk:
‘I don’t believe there is any question as to what his intent was. He stabbed Mr. Gill multiple times in the chest area, repeatedly, and even as Mr. Gill backed away and attempted to fight him off and retreated, the suspect continued to stab Mr. Gill.’
Ike Gewal of the Sikh Council of Central California had this to say about the event:
‘Convenience store employees are afraid and always leery that this could happen.’
Gill planned to work 18 months longer, although he could have retired, because he was helping pay for his son’s medical school. He had lived in the country for 30 years.
Police released a surveillance video of the suspect, who appears to be in his late teens and White. The video shows the suspect casing the store for a few minutes, apparently waiting for the customers to leave, reported KFSN-TV.
After December’s San Bernardino massacre, Sikhs have already been swept up in the recent wave of anti-Muslim violence. Just six days earlier another 68-year-old Fresno Sikh man was attacked as he stood waiting for a ride to work. Just before dawn, two men yelled:
‘Why are you here?’
Then, they deliberately hit him with their car, shouted obscenities at him, then beat him. The man suffered a broken collarbone and other injuries in the attack.
In 2013, Gilbert Garcia beat Para Singh, 82, to death. Garcia later made anti-Muslim comments associated with his crime. In September, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Anti-Muslim prejudice also may have motivated the shooting massacre of six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August 2012.
Fresno medical clinic manager and board member of Fresno’s Sikh Institute, Harjinder Singh Dhillon, estimates that there are some 30,000 Sikhs in the city of nearly 516,000:
‘I very much feel the anti-Sikh sentiment because sometimes those young people call me things like Osama bin Laden. Young people are basically the ones who do that often. These kinds of incidents — they can be prevented, but they happen.’
Dhillon said the community has made headway in combating prejudice by reaching out to educate local young people about their faith:
‘Many elementary schools came to the gurdwara [Sikh house of worship]. It is good to reach them when they are young enough to learn.’
He said the community is largely satisfied with the attentiveness of local law enforcement and government to the problem of anti-Sikh prejudice:
‘The police knows everything — who the Sikhs are. It is very positive.’
Dhillon, who is an immigrant from India, is nonetheless disappointed in Americans’ religious illiteracy:
‘When I was young in India, I knew every religion of the world. I think in India every kid who went to school they know about everybody. But here, this is the only country in the world where people don’t know.’
Hopefully, children across the country will have an opportunity to learn about other religions.