NEW YORK: A 39-year-old Sikh man in the US has been shot and wounded outside his home by a partially – masked gunman who shouted “go back to your own country”, in a suspected hate crime incident that comes just days after an Indian engineer was killed in Kansas.
The Sikh man, identified as US national Deep Rai by Indian officials in New Delhi, was working on his vehicle outside his home in Kent, Washington, on Friday when he was approached by a stranger, who walked up to his driveway.
Kent police said an argument broke out between the two men, with Rai saying the suspect made statements to the effect of “go back to your own country”. The unidentified man then shot him in the arm.
The victim described the shooter as a six-foot-tall white man, wearing a mask covering the lower half of his face. Kent police are looking for the gunman.
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said while the Sikh man sustained “non life-threatening injuries”, they are treating this as a “very serious incident”.
Rai is able to talk, an Indian government official said. The official said the government was ready to offer all possible assistance to the wounded man.
Authorities are investigating the shooting as a suspected hate crime, according to the Seattle Times.
Consulate General of India in San Francisco is in touch with local authorities who are ascertaining the nature of the crime, the Indian official said.
Kent police have launched an investigation into the case and reached out to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
“We’re early on in our investigation,” Thomas said.
Kent Police Commander Jarod Kasner said the incident is getting attention from the Sikh community and others.
“With recent unrest and concern throughout the nation this can get people emotionally involved, especially when (the crime) is directed at a person for how they live, how they look,” Kasner said.
The incident is the latest in a series of troubling cases where members of the Indian community have been targeted in apparent hate crimes.
It comes close on the heels of the tragic hate crime shooting in Kansas last month in which 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed when 51-year-old US Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani, yelling “get out of my country”.
Earlier this week, Indian-origin convenience store owner Harnish Patel, 43, of Lancaster in South Carolina was found dead of gun shot wounds in his yard. However, police said in Patel’s killing his Indian ethnicity does not appear to be a factor.
Jasmit Singh, a leader of the Sikh community in Renton, said he had been told that the Sikh man injured in Friday’s incident has been released from hospital.
He said the victim and his family are “very shaken up”.
“We’re all kind of at a loss in terms of what’s going on right now, this is just bringing it home. The climate of hate that has been created doesn’t distinguish between anyone,” he said.
Singh said that men from his community have reported a rise in incidents of verbal abuse, “a kind of prejudice, a kind of xenophobia that is nothing that we’ve seen in the recent past.”
He said the number of incidents targeting members of the Sikh religion, are reminiscent of the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.
“But at that time, it felt like the (presidential) administration was actively working to allay those fears,” Jasmit Singh said, adding that “now it’s a very different dimension.”
India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj shared her condolence on the attack on Deep Rai and said, “he is out of danger and recovering well in a private hospital.”
I am sorry to know about the attack on Deep Rai a US national of Indian origin. I have spoken to Sardar Harpal Singh father of the victim./1
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) March 5, 2017
He told me that his son had a bullet injury on his arm. He is out of danger and is recovering in a private hospital. /2
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) March 5, 2017
Advocacy group The Sikh Coalition said it calls upon local law enforcement officials to investigate this shooting as a possible hate crime.
Various rights groups and ethnic Indian organisations are reaching out to people of the community asking them not to succumb to fear and immediately report any incident of hate crime or violence to law enforcement authorities.
The Indo-American Democratic Organisation strongly condemned Kuchibhotla’s tragic killing, saying “the circumstances around this horrible crime are incredibly troubling which includes but not limited to: unprovoked violence in a public venue, racial slurs, and a senseless attack against innocent members of the public.”
It also called on local elected leaders to express outrage over the “unacceptable and appalling” situation and publicly commit to doing what they can to prevent and call out hate crimes across communities.
It said it will continue to “represent the best interests of the local South Asian American community against the rise of any and all hate crimes and we join in partnership with many other organisations and civic leaders who stand for a more just, safe and equitable country.”
India Civil Watch, a collective of Indian-American activists and professionals, called on Indian-Americans to not succumb to fear in the wake of incidents like Kuchibotla’s murder.
The community must get organised in broad coalitions with others who intend to defend immigrant and minority rights, it said.
“This is also a moment for Indian communities in the US to reflect, take stock, and prepare for the oncoming weeks and months of struggle against a rising tide of racism and xenophobia,” it added.