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Phoenix, Arizona, May 20, 2003
Source: Associated Press

A truck driver seriously wounded in a shooting was apparently targeted because of his religious faith, police said Tuesday.

Avtar Singh, 52, an Indian immigrant, had parked his 18-wheeler late Monday in north Phoenix and called his son to pick him up from a few blocks away. While he was waiting, at least two young white men pulled up in a small red pickup truck and started yelling, Singh said at a Phoenix hospital Tuesday.

"I hear that voice: 'Go back to where you belong to.' And at the same time I heard the shot," Singh said.

The men opened fire, wounding Singh in the lower abdomen and upper thigh. He was not robbed and nothing was taken from the truck, said Phoenix police Detective Tony Morales.

The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime by local and federal authorities. Investigators were still looking for suspects Tuesday.

Singh, a Phoenix resident, is Sikh and wears a turban and untrimmed beard as part of his faith.

Singh's son, Hardeep Singh, 23, an Arizona State University student found his father bleeding in the parking lot.

"He was in a lot of pain," Hardeep said.

The shooting of Singh comes less than two years after Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death, allegedly because he was Sikh. The gas station owner was killed just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, allegedly because Frank Silva Roque of Mesa mistook him for a Muslim. Roque has been charged but not yet tried for the killing.

Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, a spokeswoman for the Sikh community in Arizona, said many Arizonans have stood up for the Sikh community since Sodhi's killing but that Sikhs will need to continue to educate people.

"We feel sincerely that all faiths are good and everyone should have the right to practice their faith and should not be coerced or victimized because of their faith," she said.

Khalsa noted that for Sikhs, the turban not only symbolizes their devotion to God but is also a symbol of equality of all people. "That symbol is what people are reacting to."

Lakhwinder "Rana" Singh Sodhi, Balbir's brother, knows Singh and said this second shooting in Arizona is frustrating.

"They're nice people. I can't believe it's happening all over again," Rana said. "He came from his work and was going home. And he was shot, and because he had a turban and a beard?"

Rana said despite education efforts by the Sikh community, ignorance remains widespread.

"We get a little bit everyday," he said. "If someone just yells at you, it really hurts, but what do you do?"


Sikhs coping with apparent hate crime
Source: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, AZ

Avtar Singh, 52, a Phoenix truck driver, was wounded Monday by men who told him to 'Go back to where you belong to.' Police said Singh, who wears a turban and untrimmed beard as part of his faith, was targeted because of his religion.

While police investigate, the Sikh community is moving to protect its members. Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, a Sikh community spokeswoman, said Sikhs have scheduled a meeting Thursday to spread security advisories and plan community education strategies.

"I'm reluctant to reveal the date, time or place in case someone would want to target practice on it," she said.

Singh is the second Sikh in less than two years to be shot in the Phoenix area apparently because of his appearance. Gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed in Mesa just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, allegedly because the gunman thought he was an Arab.

Khalsa said an interfaith prayer vigil was held Tuesday night to offer prayers to prevent hate crimes and bring healing to Singh's family.

She said the Sikh community has a heightened level of concern, especially with the nation on high terror alert.

"People who are a little bit borderline will become more explosive and think of us as a target," Khalsa said. "Hate crimes are likely to continue and be on an increase."

She added that she believes more Arizona Sikhs have been hate crime victims but are reluctant to come forward.

"They feel it's a reflection on themselves," Khalsa said. "That's what a hate crime does to people."

Singh, an Indian immigrant and permanent U.S. resident, was shot while waiting for a ride from his son in north Phoenix. He said at least two young white men pulled up in a small red pickup truck and started yelling. Someone then opened fire.

Police said Singh was wounded in the lower abdomen and upper thigh. He wasn't robbed and nothing was taken from his 18-wheeler, which he had parked just before being attacked.

Singh's son found his father bleeding in the parking lot.

Local and federal authorities are investigating the shooting as a hate crime. No suspects had been found as of Wednesday.

Singh was listed in fair condition Wednesday, said Khalsa.

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