The shooting of a Sikh man in his Kent driveway Friday by an attacker who said, “go back to your own country” has reverberated uncomfortably among the region’s growing Sikh population.
Jasmit Singh of Olympia said he met with shooting victim Deep Rai, 39, on Sunday, and that Rai is recovering at home after being shot in the arm.
The FBI is aiding Kent police in the investigation and is gathering evidence to determine whether a federal civil rights violation occurred.
Singh, 49, is a founder of a new school in Renton for Sikh children and works in technology. The Kent shooting, he said, reminds him of recent attacks against members of other minority groups nationally, including threats against Jewish community centers in several states, vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia and the shootings of two Indian men in Kansas.
“It is really troubling,” Singh said, “and it behooves all of us to get together now and really start putting some effort to work against this hate.”
Rai’s shooting is not the first incident harming Sikhs. A Spokane gurdwara — a Sikh place of worship — was vandalized in 2016 by a man who believed it was a mosque with Islamic State group connections. A 2007 assault on a Sikh taxi driver led to a Kent construction worker’s conviction on a hate crime charge for drunkenly attacking the driver and calling him a terrorist.
Singh said the ongoing heated political discourse has created an adversarial climate for several minority groups, Sikhs included, whose distinct culture identifies them as “the other” to many.
“What is the value system that is really being propagated in the political space today?” he said. “There’s definitely a concern around that.”
He said he sees a need to address the overwhelming rancor in a way that incorporates Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of other faiths, rather than holding a vigil for each incident.
Singh said Olympia, his home of nearly 17 years, has been a relatively easy place during the turbulent times.
“Olympia is a fairly relaxed city, and there’s not a whole lot of (troubling) stuff going on,” he said. “In fact, a lot of people are extremely polite, and it’s a very diverse community.”
Simran Lamba of Kent, who previously lived in University Place, in 2011 became the Army’s first Sikh corporal in decades.
He said he likewise has encountered no signs of overt prejudice in the region, whether in the military or in his time living near the denser Sikh populations of Kent and Renton.
“It’s a very, I would say, kind of an open community,” Lamba said of the region. “It was quite shocking to hear of something like this (Rai’s shooting) happening here. I personally have never witnessed anything like that.”
He moved to Kent in 2014 from University Place, but said the presence of other Sikhs was not a significant factor in the way that good neighborhoods, affordable housing in an industrious community and a tolerable Seattle commute were.
“I have all sorts of friends,” he said. “I probably have more American and white friends than I know Sikh people here.”
Another former Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier, Army Capt. Simratpal “Simmer” Singh, said that in his experience, Western Washington is so tolerant he was taken aback to hear that an anti-Sikh shooting had happened here.
“It was a genuine surprise that something like that would happen in Kent,” said Singh, who grew up in Burien.
Like most Sikh men, he wears a full beard and turban, and received Army permission last year to wear them in uniform. He is now stationed in Virginia.
“You certainly get a lot more looks in other parts of the country, whether in the South or in the Midwest,” he said.
On a recent training exercise in Mobile, Alabama, he drew obvious notice whenever he went in public in civilian clothes, he said.
“For the most part, folks were friendly,” he said. “It’s not even an issue in the Northwest. That’s why I’m somewhat surprised that something like this would happen.”