Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Queens last week to reassure the Sikh community that the city was ramping up security to safeguard their members.
Full protection is a promise no mayor or police commissioner can keep. By the time a well-trained police department in Oak Creek, Wis., learned that a hate-filled neo-Nazi was shooting up a Sikh temple, six worshipers were dead.
Outside of permanently posting police at every Sikh temple in the city, little can be done except for monitoring extremist websites and cracking down on the sale of guns.
But what the mayor did do was let the Sikh community know the people of New York share in their sorrow and outrage. He told them no form of religious intolerance will be tolerated in this city.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what religion you profess, you have a right to be safe in your homes, in your places of worship and on the streets of New York City,” said Bloomberg, who was accompanied by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill.
Although Queens has one of the largest Sikh populations in the world, with about 15,000 individuals living in Richmond Hill and the surrounding areas, most residents of Queens know little about the religion.
People often confuse the bearded men with Muslims — it’s possible this is what the Wisconsin killer thought.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia and has nothing to do with Islam.
Mohan Singh Khatra, chairman of the Sikh Cultural Society, lost an uncle in the rampage. Anshdeep Singh, a member of the society, said Sikhs have “been targeted because of our distinct appearances.” Sikh men wear turbans and grow their beards long, similar to many Muslims and some Orthodox Jews.
Anshdeep Singh has felt the sting of discrimination, particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Our community has been through a lot,” he said.
Eradicating ignorance and prejudice is a monumental task, but the city can take a first step by helping children in public schools understand the varied cultures that make up this city.
Meanwhile, we hope the Sikhs know they are not alone. The people of Queens share in their sorrow and anger.