KCTS 9 Connects/Sikh Temple Shooting - August 10, 2012

CNX: Sikh Temple Shooting 8/10/12
  • KCTS 9 Connects

Sikh Temple Shooting

We discuss violence against Sikhs in the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.

CNX: Sikh Cab Driver Shot
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Sikh Cab Driver Shot

In the fall of 2007 in Seattle, a cab driver named Sukhvir Singh survived an assault by an intoxicated passenger who called him an "Iraqi terrorist."

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  • Insiders Roundtable Transcript
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  • Marvin Hamlisch Transcript

Producer's Notes

Why? Once again we're left with that question as a gunman kills six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

According to news reports Wade Michael Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee on Sunday and opened fire. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and multiple magazines of ammunition. The victims ranged in age from 39 to 84. Three other were critically wounded.

Back to the question of why? There are reports that Page was a white supremacist. The FBI has classified the shooting as "domestic terrorism." It may take days to find out the true motive. What we do know is that Sikh Americans have been the victims of senseless hate crimes. One of those crimes happened in Seattle in the fall of 2007. The target was a cab driver named Sukhvir Singh who survived an assault by an intoxicated passenger who called him an "Iraqi terrorist." I reported this story on KCTS 9 Connects.

In the aftermath of the Wisconsin shooting, we have posted the story for you to view. For me, what was most remarkable about this story was the decision by the victim Sukhvir Singh to forgive his attacker Luis Vasquez. His decision to do so reflects what most Sikhs are all about: they belief in peace and community.

Along with the story, we're also posting information from the Seattle Times about Sikhs. We'll have more about the Wisconsin shooting and its impact locally on this week's edition of KCTS 9 Connects.

Enrique Cerna, Executive Producer

Vigil and Prayers

Hundreds of local Sikhs and other community members, interfaith leaders, and law enforcement officials will gather Saturday for a vigil honoring the victims of the Wisconsin shooting that left six congregants dead and three others wounded. The program will be an opportunity for the general public to show their support for the families of the victims, to get to know the Sikhs in our community, and learn about the practices and beliefs of Sikhs worldwide. Download the flyer (PDF)

Sikhs at a Glance

Size: World's fifth-largest religion with about 27 million adherents; national and state estimates vary, from about 80,000 to 500,000 followers in the U.S. and from 15,000 to 50,000 in Washington. Locally, most Sikhs live in Renton and Kent with concentrations also in Seattle, Bellevue, Marysville, Bellingham and Spokane.

Structure: Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in the Punjab region of India and believed by followers to be divinely inspired. Nine gurus — or spiritual guides — followed him. There is no hierarchy and no institutional priesthood, but scholars in India occasionally give guidance on religious questions. There are also spiritual teachers who travel from congregation to congregation.

Core beliefs and practices: Sikhs believe in one creator, God, that God can be found within each person, and that God's will can be discerned through meditation and mantras. Sikhs are expected to say five prayers daily and to meditate. They have no weekly holy day, though they may meet weekly for services in someone's home, a rented hall or a gurudwara — a house of worship. Sikhs emphasize community and are taught to live honestly and truthfully and to share what they earn with the larger community.

Turbans and other symbols of faith: Sikhs do not cut their hair, believing that hair in a natural state is in harmony with God's will. Men are expected to wear turbans, considered a symbol of dedication, self-respect and piety and worn out of love and obedience to the faith's founders. Women have the option of wearing a head covering. Sikhs also often wear a comb in their hair and a steel wrist bangle.

Source: Seattle Times archives

Enrique Cerna:
one down and one to go with the primary election over, we now know the candidates that will be facing each other in the November general election. Who were the winners, who were the losers? And any big surprises? Our insiders roundtable joins me to dissect the results of our primary. Joining me Cathy Allen and Bruce Boram. Also Joel Connelly, columnist for SeattlePI.com We now know there are a few races out there we don't know for sure but for the most part we know the bigger picture. Any big surprises for you folks.

Cathy Allen:
Supreme court race, I think taking a look at having Cheryl Mccloud I think is absolutely the big surprise. She would tip the balance back to the five women and four guys on the supreme court. I thought that was a big surprise.

Enrique Cerna:
How about you, Bruce?

Bruce Boram:
I was surprised the Republican running against Reagan Dunn almost got 10%. But it goes to reagan took that position on supporting gay marriage and it was a protest vote for a lot of people but is what surprised.

Joel Connelly:
I was surprised to see the tea party advocate clint didier running for commissioner, got the U.S. Out of the u.n. And u.n. Out of the u is, got the vote.

Enrique Cerna:
He didn't do badly. But let's run through the numbers and let's start with the U.S. Senate race. Maria Cantwell had an easy time in the primary. 55% To 30% for Michael Baumgardtner. Reported today by Public Cola that Cantwell even won his district.

Joel Connelly:
That was reported two hours earlier that she carried Spokane County.

Bruce Boram:
Michael is a good candidate. This is a reach for him. A very ambitious thing to run for U.S. Senate. He has a great resume, a very talented guy. But this is probably a hill 3 that's too steep for him to climb. But he's a great candidate.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's move on to the governor's race, everybody watching this one across the country. Jay Inslee beats Rob McKenna 46-43%. That is statewide. But, if you look at King County, this time around at least in the primary, we look at the numbers there, Jay Inslee, 59%, 35% for McKenna. And for McKenna to win this race, he's going to have to do better in King County.

Joel Connelly:
He certainly is. And has been courting it and courting it. But the gubernatorial race has gone like the football season. Notre Dame would go pouring down the field and commit an unforced error right near the opponent's goal line and there are two, maybe three unforced errors by the McKenna campaign which caused the King County vote to come home to the Democrats at the last minute. He still has to make that break through on which he worked for nearly a year but did not happen.

Cathy Allen:
I thought that we do see usually more people turning out that are Democrats in the primary. We do see that. The other thing I thought was that when you take a look at all of the people who voted for d and all who voted for r you have 50/50. That's what I thought was interesting. Boy, with having tea party candidates for governor, McKenna 4 had competition that we didn't necessarily have. We only had one competitor and got 1%. But total was 50/50.

Enrique Cerna:
How do you see it.

Bruce Boram:
He needs to do better in King County. He needs to do better in Snohomish. He should win it and he should win Pierce. He did not as well in Snohomish because of what we saw in the first and we saw higher Democratic turn out because of that. So basically, again, he needs to do better in King and can and will do better in Snohomish and he needs to win Pierce.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's move on to the congressional races. Of course, a lot of focus on the first congressional district. A lot of Democratic candidates there. Susan DelBene managed to pull it out on the Democratic side. 23% Of the vote. Koster did well. This is still going to be a tight race because you take all the percentages of the other -- of the Democrats, particularly Darcy Burner who is part of this. She got about 15%. She did respectfully in all of this. Didn't win. But you know, this is going to be a race.

Cathy Allen:
Rudeman was 10%. Democrats out-polled Koster's numbers. But they put $3 million into it. We had $3 million worth of folks saying come on, vote Democrat. We did well. But as many will say that Koster is too conservative for this district. People look at DelBene and she she's the moderate in the race.

Joel Connelly:
Koster is very much at home mom the conservatives of northwest Washington who are a big chunk of the Electorate but not the majority. He needs to go south young man.

Cathy Allen:
That's a vision. Seeing him walk in to the tech crowd. That's a vision.

Bruce Boram:
This race is about money. Right now he has 100,000 on hand. Koster has the same amount of money as DelBene? Then he wins. Right now that's a question mark. If supporters don't step up he'll lose. DelBene will out spend him and win.

Joel Connelly:
The Democratic party has a bunch of air time booked to try to make him look like Genghis Khan.

Bruce Boram:
But, if he raises the money, he wins.

Enrique Cerna:
But will the Democratic national party come in here.

Bruce Boram:
As it works for campaigns as we know, if the campaign performs, that money is matched by the RNCC or DRC. So those offices caucus campaign committees are making decisions whether they can invest.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's move on here some of the other congressional races. 6th congressional race. Norm Dicks's race, he's retiring, Kilmer did well here. He's a young up and coming guy out of the legislature. Bill Driscoll is the Democrat. He does have money but that's the main thing. I don't know.

Cathy Allen:
This is Norm Dicks's district. This is a swing to solid democrat district. In addition you have a young bright guy up against somebody who is a great contrast in terms of older background, Weyerhaeuser, so on. In this case, I would be very surprised if anything he could do but get Derek elected.

Bruce Boram:
I think the district is winnable by a Republican. I think if you really work the peninsula and blue collar areas of the district, I think this is going to be a difficult one to win, though.

Joel Connelly:
Kilmer is the new star. Republicans made a big deal out of putting Driscoll on their list of young guns but he didn't shoot very straight in the primary.

Enrique Cerna:
To the 10th, Heck is the Democrat here. He did well. 39%. Been running against Dick Murray who is the Republican here. 27%. This seemed to be closer to me than I guess what I would expect.

Bruce Boram:
Well, Dick is really well known in the northern part of the district. He's done the Pierce County council for quite a while. He was on the Lakewood school district for quite a well. He's grassroots and loved by everybody. So not surprising he did well.

Cathy Allen:
Except most of the voters are in the southern part of the county.

Bruce Boram:
Unfortunately, this is again a money game. Dicks has had a very difficult time raising money. Heck has bought one hundred thousand worth of pratt in the Seattle media market. Dick only raised 20,000.

Cathy Allen:
This is another one, you see Norm Dick has come, you say all right, game up.

Enrique Cerna:
Attorney general race, we know in the debate these guys have clashed quite a bit. Bob Ferguson, the Democrat, did well. 51%. Reagan Dunn didn't show probably as well as I think most people expected. Does he have -- is this going to be a tough race for him?

Joel Connelly:
Nobody outworks Bob Ferguson in any campaign any time any place.

Bruce Boram:
Yes, Bob works very, very hard but I think Reagan is underperforming in the fundraising, I'm talking about way too much money this week. But it happens to be very important. But Reagan has the ability to raise money and he can outraise Bob and he needs to do that.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's move on to the secretary of state race. 31%, 21%, Kim Wyman is the Republican there. Kathleen Drew, I don't know. Could this be a close race.

Cathy Allen:
It could be. I don't think it will be. People are looking at Kathleen Drew, who has been managing to get around the state while Kim has been trying to collect votes in Thurston County. I think we had almost 58% voted Democrat in the primary. And she beat Greg Nichols, no small deal here. I think Drew has the edge on this one. I'm happy to see two women though in the race.

Joel Connelly:
The choice of two very good people. Something I'm going to enjoy being an undecided voter until the point where I make up my ballot.

Enrique Cerna:
Lieutenant governor race, Brad Owen, the Democrat, coasted here in the primary. Bill Finkbeiner is going to have quite a bit of ground to make up here. Let's move to the state supreme court. This is interesting. We have with votes still needing to be counted, a very close race here and Cheryl Gordon McCloud who is Seattle University professor and then Richard Sanders, one time court member, Bruce Hilliard, King County court guy. Do you think Hilliard has an opportunity to make it up?

Joel Connelly:
I think there are tomorrow votes outside of King County to count. Unlike the next person we're going to talk about. Judge Gonzalez, Hilliard did not get out around the state enough. You cannot hide behind lawyers and judges when you run for the supreme court. People have come to defeat that way.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's look at the supreme court race, Gonzalez did win against a candidate who was really nonexistent but we have such a short amount of time here. It's unfortunate there's a lot of focus here on the fact that maybe Steve Gonzalez' last name didn't help him. It didn't help in the eastern part of the state.

Bruce Boram:
It did remind me of Charles Johnson from 1990. The fact that people don't understand these races was definitely a factor.

Cathy Allen:
I was going to say final wrap here is when you look at this, we don't know anybody, you go for the name, you think is most like yours or you vote for the woman which happened in both these cases in terms of McCloud and Gonzalez.

Enrique Cerna:
Gonzalez has six years to make a record and get his name out there. But it raises questions about the latino community and where political clout or lack of or even though we have numbers to get out there and try to get some involvement in this political process.

Joel Connelly:
Still you worked it and he won it.

Cathy Allen:
It was a good showing, actually.

Enrique Cerna:
Let's leave it there. It's been interesting. All right, have a good weekend.

Cathy Allen:
Thank you.

Enrique Cerna:
On saturday night, Seattle area Sikhs hold a vigil to honor the victims of the Wisconsin shooting. Six members were killed in the mass shooting, and authorities say the gunman, Wade Page, an army veteran who has been described as a white supremacist, died from a self-inflicted wound. Why he went on a shooting rampage may never be shown. Hate crimes increased as they were mistaken from being Muslim. in 2008 I reported on a hate crimes against a Seattle area cab driver. His story is still timely not only was of the Wisconsin shooting but because of his ability to forgive the person who viciously attacked him in what it says about Sikhs and their community.

Six days a week. Six and sometimes 10 hours a day, Singh works as a cab driver traveling the roadways of King County.

Sukvir Singh:
Every single customer is a VIP to me.

Enrique Cerna:
But on the evening of November 24th, his good intentions were overwhelmed by an act of hate. Around 8:00 he picks up a fare at Husky Stadium where the annual Apple Cup game is being played. His passenger, 21 year Luis Vasquez, is denied entry to the stadium because he's intoxicated. The driver takes him to his home in Federal Way. Suddenly he starts yelling at the driver, calling him an Iraqi terrorist and threatening to kill him. This video inside the cap captures Vasquez as he attacks, punching, biting and choking the driver. Yanking out his turban and pulling out clumps of hair. Motorists observed the attack and called 911.

Caller:
There's fight in the freeway. Another guy stomping on his head.

Sukvir Singh:
It was dangerous to me, but it was more dangerous to the other cars coming nearby.

Enrique Cerna:
He managed to bring the car to a stop but Vasquez continues the assault outside the vehicle.

When he was attacking you, were you fearing for your life?

Sukvir Singh:
Yes, sir.

Enrique Cerna:
Police rushed to the scene where they subdue and arrest Vasquez. Sukvir suffers a concussion, cuts and bruises, his kidneys are injured and start to shut down. His recovery takes several months but in the midst of all this, he talks of forgiving his attacker.

Sukvir Singh:
We should find that way, which way we can solve the problem and give some lessons to those persons who are on the wrong part.

Enrique Cerna:
Luis Vasquez is charged with malicious harassment, a hate crime. He pleads guilty to the charge along with second degree assault and reckless endangerment. They want him locked up for two years. But the driver wants something else.

Sukvir Singh:
I don't want to ruin his whole life.

Enrique Cerna:
He writes a letter to the King County superior court judge handling the case, he asks for leniency in the sentencing of Luis Vasquez.

Judge:
In our community hatred flourishes.

Enrique Cerna:
On April 18th in a crowded King County courtroom he again faces Vasquez. This time Vasquez, who says he was so drunk he doesn't remember the assault, is sober, somber and apologetic.

Luis Vasquez:
If there was a way I could take it all back, I would. But there isn't unfortunately, and I'm sorry for making you have to look back over your shoulder every time you walk.

Enrique Cerna:
In court, Sukvir again makes a request for leniency and the judge listens. Vasquez is sentenced to 9 months in work release plus 240 hours of community service.

Judge:
It is unfortunate truly, that you do not recall this event. Because he will never forget it.

Enrique Cerna:
So to understand why Sukhvir Singh is able to forgive, it's important to get an understanding of his faith, culture and journey too. Sukhvir Singh is Sikh. Sikhvism is the 5th largest world religion with 23 million followers. It's estimated that 10,000 Sikhs live in the Seattle area most with roots in the northwest region of India.

Hardeep Rhekki:
They've come to the country for the last 30-40-50 years because of opportunities.

Enrique Cerna:
Sukhvir came to the U.S. 10 years ago. In India because he was Sikh, he endured prejudice and persecution, he set his sights on coming to America and was eventually granted asylum here.

Hardeep Rhekki:
He'll tell you this, for him it's heaven.

Sukvir Singh:
In my belief, the U.S. is the best best place in the whole planet. That is the reason I come here.

Enrique Cerna:
And for Sukhvir what endears him to this country even more is having the freedom to practice his religion.

Sukvir Singh:
That's my belief. Because I trust in God.

Enrique Cerna:
Sikhs believe that all people are equal. They value community service and helping the needy. They welcome visitors to their place of worship that also serves as a community center and where they gladly share their food. It's those values that gave Sukhvir the power to forgive Luis Vasquez. It's a troubling fact that since 9/11 Sikhs have been the target of hate crimes in the U.S. Most of the attacks have been motivated by their appearance. Sikh men wear turbans that cover part of their hair that they don't cut, nor do they shave their beards. And because of their appearance they've been wrongly associated with terrorists. That ignorance has lead to senseless atacks and murders.

Hardeep Rhekki:
It reminds you that I can be targeted just because of the way I look. This is hate happening right under our noses. And they say we want to make sure that people understand this is happening and that we as a community don't accept it, I think that that's the way you fight this.

Enrique Cerna:
Sukhvir Singh admits this attack has left him and others in the Sikh community weary and fearful that it could happen again. Still he has no regrets that he has leniency for his attacker. That, he says, is what forgiveness is all about.

Hardeep Rhekki:
This was a scenario where we didn't allow it to isolate us. And Sukhvir didn't want it to isolate us, he said this is an opportunity for us to reach out.

Enrique Cerna:
Joining me now is Jasmit Singh who organized the vigil. First of all, how is Sukhvir doing.

Jasmit Singh:
He's doing well. He's had challenges in the past but as the wonderful human being that he is, he's coping with everything in his life and you know, being part of the community.

Enrique Cerna:
You and others met this morning with the FBI to talk about the incident in Wisconsin. I guess also to maybe allay any concerns the community might have. Tell me more about that meeting.

Jasmit Singh:
Absolutely. You know, one of the things that is very trying at this time is -- for the community as such is they don't know what to do about it. Obviously, this was something that, you know, a lone person at least of now acted out of hate. Out of ignorance against a people. But people don't know how to react to that incident. But I think having that FBI and other law enforcement officers come to the worship place, come to the community leadership and sort of reassure them saying that hey, we don't know of any threats against the Sikh community that are organized. And we want you to know that we're all here, you know, as public officials to support you.

Enrique Cerna:
How is the community coping with all of this?

Jasmit Singh:
It's a mixed bag. You know? Definitely, there are some raw emotions in terms of being, you know, some of the people feeling that you know, so long after 9/11, these things still keep on happening with that context, and they don't know how to deal with it, right? There's definitely the problem of how do you explain it to the children that the Sikh identity of having this, that, or the turban on the head or having unshorn hair is being targeted for no rhyme or reason. Any innocent person no matter what community they belong to could be targeted. So the community is trying to make sense out of this. I think on the positive side, they're rallying together. One of the principles of Sikh is you accept what has happened and then you live high. Right? Stand up for what you believe in. And I think that's the emotion that I see coming out of most of the community.

Enrique Cerna:
Tell me about a woman and her young child that came to the place of worship.

Jasmit Singh:
So it was really something that I really felt emotionally about. A woman brought her two children. They stopped by yesterday. Washington and Renton. And they had tears in their eyes. The lady brought flowers along with her. She said, "I'm really sorry this happened to the community and I want you to know there are a lot of people like me who believe that this kind of directed hate is completely unacceptable." And you know, she hugged the other teachers who were there. We're having a camp for the kids. So -- and the kids kind of mixed up with the kids who were playing out there. It was just a very poignant moment for us because we recognized the essential values that we have as a nation are intact. And that gives us the strength to say yes, we can move on. You know? And we can move on with strength. And not with bitterness but with compassion in our hearts.

Enrique Cerna:
The vigil at the place of worship, this is really not only for the community but it's for anybody. To come out to try to understand what the Sikh community, the religion, the culture, the community is all about.

Jasmit Singh:
Absolutely. So the aim is 2-fold. One is definitely to reach out to everyone and say who the Sikhs are. This is who the community is. This is how long we've been here. You know, not too many people understand the Sikhs have been here for 100 years. They came in the early 1900s and they serve in all different professions. All different walks of life. And the other aspect is really to bring healing to the community itself. The broader community. So that we can come, they can express their grief. They can also express that they stand in solidarity with our community and with all the other communities that might have been targets of hate. So that's the focus.

Enrique Cerna:
How have you personally handled someone that may have come up to you and challenged you about how you look, who you are, where you're from?

Jasmit Singh:
In most cases it is coming out of ignorance. Where people really don't know who I am. So the first and the foremost thing is because of the media images of men with turbans or perceived others, whoever that might be in history. So that's the first thing. So typically, you meet two kinds of people. One set of people who absolutely are coming from trying to understand. Right? And want to express their opinion, thinking -- having a view about who you are as a people. So those are the people that you really would love to have that dialogue with. You sit down with them and in most cases you end up being friends. There's others no matter what you say, it's lost. And you accept that with all the graciousness that you know, God gives you.

Enrique Cerna:
Again, the Seattle area Sikh community will hold a candlelight vigil saturday night beginning at 7:30 at the place of worship in Renton.

Enrique Cerna:
This week the music world lost an icon, award-winning composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch died in Los Angeles. He spent a lot of time working here in Seattle as a guest conductor with the Seattle Symphony. In 2009 I interviewed him for an episode of "Conversations" and he talked about the joy of conducting and our unpredictable Seattle weather.

Marvin Hamlisch:
It's a great feeling to go boom and have people actually follow you. Oh, my gosh, this is actually working, you know? I enjoy this orchestra very much. I love Seattle. I hope people realize what a great town they're living in. It's just fantastic.

Enrique Cerna:
We really do.

Marvin Hamlisch:
Oh, yeah, you have the most interesting weather. You put on a coat -- I'm on the 10th floor of the hotel. You look out and go oh, my gosh, it's raining, so you put on a coat on the 10th floor and by the time you get to the first floor, you check the coat.

Enrique Cerna:
It's all layers here. Wear the parka but something else underneath that. You need somebody to walk behind you to handle all your clothing.

Marvin Hamlisch:
That's why PBS is so great. You learn these things, what do you learn on a regular station? Only nothing.

Enrique Cerna:
What did you learn?

Marvin Hamlisch:
Layers.

Enrique Cerna:
All right. You got it. All right Marv was fun, and friendly. He'll be missed.

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