Members of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill were joined by community leaders Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of a Texas Sikh police officer who was shot to death on Sept. 27.
“The Sikh community is very deeply hurt because we are very proud that one Sikh man who wears the turban and beard was protecting others,” said Gurdev Singh Kang, of the New York City Human Rights Commission, in front of the tri-state area’s oldest and largest Sikh temple at 95-30 118th St.
Harris County Deputy Sheriff Sandeep Dhaliwal, 42, who was on the force for 10 years, was shot in the back of the head following a routine traffic stop in Houston, according to reports. The suspect, Robert Solis, 47, who had a warrant for his arrest on parole violations, was arrested on charges of capitol murder.
Dhaliwal became a trailblazer when he gained national attention in 2015 when the Harris County Sheriff’s Office allowed him to wear his traditional turban and keep his beard in accordance with the Sikh religion — the fifth largest religion, founded in the 15th century in the Indian region of Punjab, with a following of more than 20 million people worldwide.
Dhaliwal received a ceremonial tribute on Oct. 2, which included a procession, two funeral services and a law enforcement memorial with a 21-gun salute from fellow officers and a helicopter flyover. Dhaliwal leaves behind his wife and three children.
Following his death, the Sikh community and religious leaders remembered Dhaliwal as a hero, and also paid tribute to Bronx police officer Brian Mulkeen, who died in a case of friendly fire while trying to arrest an armed man on Sept. 29.
“We are here gathering today to pay our respect and memory of their loved ones who protect us when anything happens in the city,” said Kang. “The Sikh community, Pakistani community, and the Guyanese community; regardless of where we come from, every New Yorker, we are remembering all of our loved ones.”
“The Sikh community is going to be standing with their families and we appreciate it today — the representation of our elected officials, the NYPD and media who are here because this shows regardless of what color we are, what religion we are, what language we speak, we here are all the same. We pray to god they rest in peace,” Kang added.
They’re also calling for strict gun control across the nation.
“Any person who goes to work, whether they are a police officer or not, we expect them to come back home, but it’s sad because Officer Brian and Sheriff Dhaliwal didn’t make it. They were killed by not any ordinary person, but by a criminal,” a Sikh member said. “I request and pray, and say let’s get together to the capital, do not let these criminals out on the streets because they will kill. We lost two officers and it’s a big loss for their families, the community and the country.”
State Assemblyman David Weprin, who represents the Richmond Hill community, offered his condolences and prayers, while also noting the importance of the passage of the historic Religious Garb Bill (S.04037/A.4204), which was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August and will take effect Oct. 9.
“As you all know we’ve been fighting for Sikh police officers in uniform, employees with turbans and beards for many years and the governor signed that bill which prohibits employment discrimination based on religious attire, clothing or facial hair,” Weprin said. “We don’t know the nature of this murder of the deputy sheriff, and we’ll assume it’s not a hate crime; but unfortunately, when we have a Sikh murder or Muslim murder or other people, the first thought is often a hate crime because hate crimes are on the rise in the United States and right here in New York state.”
Albert Baldeo, a community advocate and civil rights lawyer, is calling for public education in all New York City schools and institutions on the culture and religion of Sikhism.
“This we condemn and it has got to stop,” Baldeo said. “This happens too often in our community.We’ve got to demand protection for the tax dollars we pay. We deserve the respect as American citizens and our children have died and fought for America at the highest level. We are no less American than anyone else.”