Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: All Hell Breaks Loose at the Capitol

Photo Oct 03, 3 21 18 PM

Thursday was the third day of our U.S. Federal Government shutdown protest, which drew far more protestors and media than before. But the peace at our protest ended abruptly at 2:20 pm.

I heard sirens and saw six police cruisers chasing a black Infiniti down Pennsylvania  Ave. past the reflecting pool towards us. At first I thought it was an escort but then realized it was a chase.

The driver was trying to evade police, but rammed into the barricades at the West Lawn in an attempt to come up the sidewalk toward the Capitol.

The car backed up, hitting a cruiser. As if it were a movie, the police pulled guns and fired 5, 10, 15 rounds at the driver’s window. The tinted glass blew out, but the car turned around and fled back towards Pennsylvania Ave. I heard what I thought was an explosion from behind the trees. It turned out to be a collision with a cruiser.

Within seconds, the U.S. Capitol emergency announcement system warned us to evacuate the grounds. I thought it was a terrorist attack. My heart pounded. Continue reading

In wake of temple shooting, a better image for Sikhs: “We want everyone to know, love, understand who we are”

Vigil at White House for victims of Sikh temple shooting/Photo by Gurdeep Singh

On Sunday morning, August 5, a man entered a Sikh temple and interrupted a ceremony that had been going on for two whole days. He gunned down six people, then he was wounded in the sanctuary and killed in the temple’s parking lot by police.

The shooter, Michael Wade Page, was a white supremacist. The massacre happened at the culmination of a 48-hour ceremony–the continuous reading of the entire text of a Sikh scripture, explained Jaipal Singh, an architect and Sikh from Cincinnati, Ohio. The congregation was eating prashad, or blessed food. “It was the most vulnerable moment,” he said. “An acceptance of the work, when people were most mindful, most thoughtful.”

Photo by Gurdeep Singh

Jaipal and his fiancé Ridhi Kaur were visiting Washington, DC to work with three organizations as part of an effort to “direct the dialogue” following the shooting at the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund), the Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs organized a candlelight vigil in front of the White House on August 12.

Approaching the anniversary of 9/11, it’s the time of the year when we remember the fear and helplessness we experienced when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked. The reaction that followed was anger. It was often directed at Muslims or people who “look like” Muslims.

Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because they wear turbans and Sikh men grow beards as an article of faith. Their appearance fits a stereotypical image Americans have of Muslims. Confusing Sikhs and Muslims may have contributed to hate-crimes against them. According to the Associated Press, more than 700 hate-related incidents against Sikhs have been reported since 9/11.

Although Jaipal is in every sense American–he was born and raised in Cincinnati–he says he has often experienced discrimination personally. Because he is dark-skinned and wears a beard and turban, people have come up to him on the street and said hostile things to him. He says he had to learn how not to react to the hostility. He found that any anger was counterproductive.

He attributes the cause of discrimination and violence against Sikhs to a “sense of other.” “It’s the idea of not accepting those other than ourselves,” he says. He thinks white supremacists like Michael Wade Page are essentially saying, “You are not us, and get out!”

He contrasts this with the Sikh belief in non-duality. “We believe in one God, Divine Being, or Creator,” he says. “Truth without hatred. There is no good or evil, only oneness. There is a sense of divinity in everyone.” Since every person contains this divinity, he says, harming another person is in reality harming oneself.

The shooting in Wisconsin was tragic, but Jaipal sees an opportunity for a positive change in the way Americans and the media view Sikhs. “We want everyone to know, love, and understand who we are,” he says. “Until Americans see themselves in Sikhs, we’re going to have to keep revisiting this.”

Photo by Gurdeep Singh

United Sikhs have started a campaign called “I Pledge Against Hate Crime.”