As the Sikh community in Indianapolis and across the United States is in mourning after a gunman killed eight people at a FedEx facility last week, where four of the victims are Sikh, we speak with Simran Jeet Singh, scholar, activist and senior fellow for the Sikh Coalition, which is calling for a full investigation into the possibility of racial or ethnic hatred as a factor in the killings in Indianapolis. A majority of the workers at the warehouse are Sikh, and while authorities have not shared evidence Brandon Hole was targeting Sikh workers when he attacked the FedEx facility, police revealed Monday they previously found evidence that Hole had browsed white supremacist websites. The mass shooting took place as more than 15 states across the U.S., including Indiana, mark April as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month. “This community, in Indianapolis, all around the world, is really devastated,” says Singh. “Given the pattern of violence against Sikhs, we are demanding a full investigation into the possibility of bias and racism in this attack.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
More details are coming out about last week’s mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility, where the eight victims have been identified. They’re Matthew Alexander, Samaria Blackwell, Amarjeet Johal, Jaswinder Singh, Amarjit Sekhon, Jasvinder Kaur, Karli Smith and John Weisert. Four of the victims are members of the local Sikh community.
Indianapolis police say Brandon Hole, the 19-year-old white mass murderer and former FedEx employee, who then killed himself, legally purchased the two semiautomatic rifles used in Thursday’s attack just a few months after police seized a shotgun from him, after his mother raised concerns about his mental state. But prosecutors said Monday they did not try to use Indiana’s “red flag” law, which could have prevented Hole from obtaining the two guns. We’ll have more on that later in the show.
Authorities have not shared evidence Hole was targeting Sikh workers when he attacked the FedEx facility. But on Monday, police revealed they had previously found evidence that Hole had browsed white supremacist websites. Most of the workers in the FedEx warehouse next to the airport in Indianapolis Hole attacked were Sikh.
This is Indianapolis Sikh community member Rimpi Girn, who knew two of the victims, speaking to NBC.
RIMPI GIRN: We were going to have a party at this time, and now we’re arranging a funeral. It’s hard. It’s sad. … All they wanted to do was just provide a good life to their family.
AMY GOODMAN: Tragically, the Indianapolis mass shooting took place as more than 15 states across the country, including Indiana, are marking April as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month.
For more, we’re joined by Simran Jeet Singh, scholar, activist, senior fellow for the Sikh Coalition, which is calling for a full investigation into the possibility of racial or ethnic hatred as a factor in the killings in Indianapolis. His recent piece for CNN is headlined “Why Sikh Americans again feel targeted after the Indianapolis shooting.”
Welcome back to Democracy Now! I’m so sorry to have you back under these circumstances, Simran. But talk about what you’re calling for.
SIMRAN JEET SINGH: Sure. I mean, I will start by saying, you know, these families — as we heard in that clip, these families are devastated. And there were Sikh families that were harmed and hurt in this attack. There were families who don’t identify as Sikh who were hurt in this attack. And it’s so painful to hear their stories and to humanize them, to really recognize what they’re going through.
And I’d also say that the Sikh community, in Indianapolis, across the country, all around the world, is also devastated. And I think that’s in part because we know that attacks like these, they’re meant for all of us, that any of us could be affected. And then we have to ask ourselves, “When is it coming for our parents? When will we be attacked? Will our kids be safe?” And I think that’s a lot of the sentiment in the community right now.
And so, given the pattern of violence against Sikhs, we are demanding a full investigation into the possibility of bias and racism in this attack. And we don’t know what the authorities will conclude, but we know that the feeling among the community is that, once again, year after year, week after week, we are undergoing real white supremacist violence in this country. And that’s not something we’re willing to stand down on.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Simran, could you talk a little bit about the history of this kind of violence targeting the Sikh community, even before 9/11, but since 9/11, as well?
SIMRAN JEET SINGH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, so many of these stories, as they come up, we minimize them and think about them as one-off incidents. And we say, “Well, this attack targets the Sikh community, and, you know, that’s too sad, and let’s move on.” But I think there’s something much deeper here. Right?
So, we can look back to the past few years and look at the massive spike against — the massive spike in anti-Sikh hate crimes that have been reported by the FBI. From 2017 to 2018, we saw a 200% increase in reported hate crimes against Sikhs. Two hundred percent. I mean, ask any statistician or sociologist. That’s not a number that we see, right? That’s not normal. We can talk about the 2012 massacre against Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in which a white supremacist entered their place of worship, while they were praying, and just slaughtered six Sikh Americans. And so, it’s not just today. It’s 10 years, right? That’s 10 years. And this year, as we’re marking 20 years since 9/11, we can look at the racist backlash that ensued after the terrorist attacks, in which Americans all over the country looked at people who looked like me, with their turbans, beards and brown skin, and saw them as the enemy and started killing them, too.
And so, so much of our narrative is around these sorts of moments, but I think it’s critical — I appreciate your question, Juan, because when we limit our understandings to the modern moment and we erase history or we forget about history, we ignore the reality that these are long-standing problems. Sikhs first came to this country a hundred years ago — more than a hundred years ago. And they started being subjected to racist violence immediately thereafter. The first race riots targeting Sikhs occurred in 1907 in Bellingham, Washington. And then,, the rhetoric was around “Hindus,” quote-unquote, and around people who were stealing their jobs.
And so, I mean, you know, we can look at this and tell ourselves that, ,”Oh, this is today’s problem,” and that we should move forward — and, you know, we should — but we won’t to be able to move forward until we name the real problem here, which is the long history of xenophobia and white supremacy in America. If we look at these as historically connected issues and if we can see how these are patterns that connect other communities and other kinds of racist violence, then we’ll be able to recognize the reality of racist violence and white supremacy in this country. And then we’ll be able to take that on correctly.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And so often, in some of these cases, though, as, for instance, the attacks on the nail salons in Atlanta recently and now this, it’s not immediately apparent whether these are directly white supremacist-motivated. But have you been in touch with any of the community in Indianapolis or some of the victims to get a sense of what you’re able to piece together about the killer in this instance?
SIMRAN JEET SINGH: You know, it’s a really important question, because in a lot of these instances of hate violence, we don’t actually know the motives of the attackers. You know, people don’t typically come forward and announce, “I am killing you because you are X, Y, Z identities.” And so, there are rare instances, actually, where we have real evidence. And that’s part of the problem in how we think about and categorize racism in this country. We know that the evidence and the science and the research shows us over and over again that there is implicit bias lurking within each of us. And in a lot of these instances, it’s impossible — it’s literally impossible — to separate out the biases that we hold and the actions that we take.
And so, in a situation like this, here’s what we know. We know that there’s a 19-year-old white man who had access to guns when he shouldn’t have. He entered a place of work, where he used to be employed. He knew that the facility was heavily populated by Punjabi Sikh immigrants, many of whom look like me. And he killed them. He murdered them. This was premeditated. It was not a crime of convenience. It wasn’t a random act. This was something that he premeditated. And so, these are some of the points of reality that we cannot dismiss.
And again, I would go back to what impact does it have on these communities, whether we’re talking about the anti-Asian hate crimes happening all across the country, in which we see a pattern of targeting, targeted attacks by a killer in Atlanta, or in a situation like this. Again, we don’t have to know what these people are announcing. We don’t necessarily know the bias in their hearts and what motivated them. But we know in both cases, and in cases all over the country, that hate was in their hearts. Murder was on their minds. And that is a problem that we all have to be able to sort out.
AMY GOODMAN: And what we do also know is that when police — The Washington Post is reporting this today — went to his house a year ago, after his mother said he’s dangerous, he’s probably going to commit suicide by cop, and they took his gun away — and we’re going to talk more about this with a gun control advocate in a minute — that they saw on his computer that he was visiting white supremacist websites.
Now, Simran, you have called, in a letter, with your coalition, sent to the White House, to appoint a Sikh American liaison to the White House Office of Public Engagement. Already President Biden has appointed an Asian American liaison, after the Atlanta murders. Talk about why specifically you want it to be a Sikh — that you want, in addition, a Sikh American liaison and why you want President Biden to go to Sikh communities to educate the public.
SIMRAN JEET SINGH: I appreciate that question. I’ll answer both of them. Why is it important for President Biden to go to Indianapolis? We’ve called on him to do so. I hope he does. And part of the reason is, in this country, there are messages that are sent from the top down that really impact how we see one another. And we saw that during Donald Trump’s presidency, and we’re seeing it again now in President Biden’s presidency. And so we know that leadership and gestures matter. And we’re not asking him to come to Indianapolis because we need him to validate our pain or our existence. Like, we know that we matter. We know that we have inherent human dignity just like everyone else. But we also believe that it’s important for him to show that in a moment like this, that our communities are part of the American family. And if our leadership is going to other sites in situations like this to express their condolences and grief — and they should; I think that’s critically important — then we should be included in that, too.
And, you know, when the massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, happened, this was a pain point for the Sikh community, that President Obama did not come. He did not have any sort of public moment with the community to show that we mattered. And rather, the message that was sent out was that we’re part of the broader American family, as if we are distant cousins, as if we don’t actually really belong here. And that messaging really matters for us. So, that’s one, with regard to why we believe President Biden should come to Indianapolis and why it would matter, not just for us as Sikh Americans, but for the broader American public to see who we are and to see our humanity.
And second, with regard to having a Sikh liaison in the White House, I think, you know, this is an important ask for — this is an important ask for people of all different identity groups, that we recognize, in this increasingly diverse country, that our challenges, while so many of them are shared, we have particularities about what our communities are going through. And so, absolutely there should be a Sikh liaison in the White House, because, otherwise — we’ve seen this over and over again throughout our history — we’re ignored as a community. We have never had any sort of attention on us, other than when hate crimes like this happen. I mean, even with regard to reporting, we’re ignored until we’re victims and the world wants to grieve with us and express their sympathies. And we appreciate that, but what about the rest of our lives? And where do we belong, and how do we fit in? And so, having a liaison in the White House, I think, would help address some of those concerns.
AMY GOODMAN: Simran, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Simran Jeet Singh, scholar, activist, senior fellow for the Sikh Coalition. We’ll link to your piece headlined “Why Sikh Americans again feel targeted after the Indianapolis shooting.” And we’re going to continue on this shooting.