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Richmond Times-Dispatch: More than 100 turn out in solidarity with local Sikh community after mass shooting in Indianapolis

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MARK BOWES

A leader of central Virginia’s Sikh community says the recent mass shooting that killed eight people, including four Sikhs, at a FedEx operations center in Indianapolis has “opened the wounds of long-standing anti-Sikh and anti-Asian hate” in the U.S. and caused grief “all across the country and the world.”

“But we are not just victims,” Dr. Bimaljit Sandhu told a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered at the Sikh Gurdwara temple in northern Chesterfield County to mourn the lives lost on April 15. “We have wisdom and resilience. In our vigil, we will hear the prayer for ‘sarbat da bhala’ — the well-being of all humankind.”

“Together we will recommit to the practices of revolutionary love in the face of hate,” Sandhu added. “I can imagine no better redemption for all we have lost than for America to take up this radical vision of beloved community as our North Star.”

Saturday’s interfaith vigil drew a contingent of politicians and religious leaders of various faiths, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th; state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield; and state Dels. Rodney Willett, D-Henrico, Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, and Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico.

Gov. Ralph Northam sent Mona Siddiqui, the governor’s deputy chief diversity officer and senior policy adviser for immigrant and refugee affairs. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney addressed the audience in a prerecorded video.

The vigil was also a show of solidarity for the Richmond region’s Sikh community in the aftermath of the shooting at the FedEx Ground Plainfield Operations Center on the southwest side of Indianapolis. The center is FedEx’s second-busiest hub, employing nearly 4,000 people.

The shooter was a 19-year-old Indianapolis resident and former FedEx employee who was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the facility. No motive has been released in the shooting, but the investigation is continuing.

Generations of Sikh Hoosiers have worked at the Indianapolis FedEx center, which had become known as a gathering place for the local Sikh community, according to a story published Tuesday in The Indianapolis Star.

The paper reported there’s a popular saying among Sikhs who have made their home in the Indianapolis area: “If at least one member of a new Sikh family that moves to Indianapolis hasn’t worked at FedEx, then they haven’t really moved to Indianapolis yet.”

For new Sikh immigrants arriving in Indiana, the type of assembly-line work at the FedEx center didn’t require superior English-language proficiency. They carpooled to work and worked side by side with their friends and family, the Star reported.

“All lives are precious,” Sandhu told attendees at Saturday’s vigil.

“The gunman, according to witnesses, specifically targeted Sikh employees. One witness reported that the gunman told a white woman to get out of the way after having shot a Sikh man in the face. Others heard him scream to let him in to ‘kill them all.’”

But despite these reports, Sandhu said, the police “are still not yet investing the role of bias in the shooting.”

Sandhu said the massacre “opens the wounds going back” to the Sikh temple shooting in August 2012 in Oak Creek, Wis., where 10 people were shot, six fatally. A seventh victim died of his wounds last year. All of the dead were Sikhs.

“And yet, the media is quiet,” he said. “No headlines, no hashtags. We together are going to change this.”

Sandhu also noted that the Indianapolis shooting occurred just a month after a gunman killed eight people, including six Asian-American women, at three Asian-operated spas and massage businesses in the Atlanta area.

“The targeting of any innocent person for any reason is an attack on humanity itself,” Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia told attendees. “The value of one human life is the value of this entire world. And every soul is born with the right to live in peace and protection and safety.”

He added: “It’s very disturbing, I know, to all of us, that we have to gather in each other’s holy places and sanctuaries to commemorate these tragic events. But it’s very, very important that we do this. People feel that things are going out of control. People are targeted because of their race, or their religion, their appearance or their ethnicity by evil and wicked forces here in our country. That must stop.

“But I do have something positive to say, which is you are on the right road, working towards peace, working for a diverse community of mutual respect. That’s the right path, and it’s inevitably going to be the successful path, the divine path.”