State Sen. Darrell Steinberg called on elected officials Sunday to join him in wearing a turban for a day to symbolize solidarity with the Sikh community in the wake of the recent shooting of two elderly men in Elk Grove.
“Our community can only be safe when we come together and insist not just on tolerance but acceptance,” Steinberg told the crowd at a West Sacramento Sikh temple before pledging to don the turban April 13. Local, state and federal officials and law enforcement had gathered there to show their support and update the congregation on the investigation into the shooting, which some suspect was a hate crime.
While the Elk Grove Police Department had little progress to report, the briefing illustrated the collaboration between Sikhs and law enforcement that has evolved since Gurmej Atwal, 78, and Surinder Singh, 65, were shot by an unknown gunman while on their afternoon walk on East Stockton Blvd. Singh was killed in the attack, while Atwal remains in the hospital in critical but stable condition.
“I can’t say at this moment whether [the shooting] is or is not a hate crime,” said EGPD Captain Bryan Noblett, adding that the department is continuing to follow up on tips from the public and that the reward money collected for such information is nearing $50,000. “But as we get closer to mutual respect and understanding I believe Mr. Singh’s death will not have been in vain.”
As uniformed police wearing improvised head coverings sat on the temple’s blue carpet next to men in traditional dastars and women in jewel-toned suits, temple public relations director Darshan Mundy told the congregation to be patient.
“A hate crime is very hard to prove and they are working on it day and night,” Mundy said.
Community members, many of whom have been living in fear since the attacks, said they were reassured by the presence of high-ranking officials, including U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who has been collaborating with local police in the case.
“The freedom to wear a dastar and worship where, how and when you want is fundamental to our country and it is part of my responsibility to defend that right,” Wagner said. “We are sparing no resource in this investigation.”
Amrit Kaur, 28, of Sacramento said she has been worried for the safety of her husband, who wears a turban, and was glad to see police taking the case seriously.
“They [Atwal and Singh] were old people and I can’t imagine them having anything against anyone,” Kaur said. “Let’s find out what happened.”
Steinberg, who is President Pro Tempore of the California Senate, said he based his suggestion on a precedent from the Nazi era, when the king of Denmark asked everyone in his country to wear a Star of David so that Jews could not be singled out. Temple leaders announced later in a press release that a ceremony will be held in Sacramento April 13 in honor of the event.
Elk Grove Mayor Steven Detrick also attended the briefing at the temple and urged people to donate personally to the reward fund, which he said he and Vice-Mayor Jim Cooper have both done.
Gurmej Atwal’s family said his health is improving and that detectives have visited him several times in the hospital, but he is still unable to talk, communicating only by shaking his head or nodding.
“This is a big blow to the shooter,” Kamaljit Atwal, Atwal’s son, said of the support Sikhs have received. He said he often imagines the person who shot his father watching television or reading newspapers, seeing how the local community has responded to the crime.
“The bars are waiting for him or her,” he said.