FedEx shooting shows Sikh struggle in US

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Sikh hate is linked to a multitude of structures, including colonization, white supremacy, Islamophobia and anti-Asian hate.

TW: Contains issues of mass violence and white supremacy. 

On April 15, Karli Smith, Amarjit Sekhon, Jasvinder Kaur, Samaria Blackwell, Matthew Alexander, Amarjeet Kaur Johal, Jaswinder Singh and John Weisert went to work at an Indianapolis, Indiana FedEx facility as usual. The day turned deadly as former FedEx employee Brandon Hole opened fire on the employees, killing all eight of those people aforementioned. 

It has taken me a while to write about something as deep and painful as this shooting because four of those killed were members of the Sikh community. The fact that a majority of those killed in the shooting were either Punjabi or non-white presenting, and the fact that the shooter engaged in white supremacist online groups, has led to our community recognizing this violent act as a hate crime. 

The pain goes further when realizing no one at the scene could even call for help, seeing as FedEx has a long-standing no-phone policy when their employees are on the job. FedEx has faced the most deadly consequence of this policy. If people had access to being able to contact help, the outcome could have looked very different. 

The shooter (a name I will not mention more than I have to because he does not deserve it) had actively visited white supremacist websites in the past and had signs on social media that he intended to do violence. Despite the evidence, the police will still not call it a hate crime, which has led the Sikh Coalition to call for a federal investigation. 

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

This shooting is incredibly difficult for me to talk about because it revives a lot of fears I have grown up with my whole life. As a kid, I remember my papaji visiting me at school and being called a “terrorist” as kids shook at the sight of his Turban. That name followed me throughout school, including others like “Osama” and “gorilla.” 

After my parents divorced, I primarily lived with my mother and nanaji, who are both Punjabi women. I remember hushing when we spoke Punjabi in the grocery store, for fear of weird looks or worse, public shame. Living in Oklahoma at the time, I could see how the lack of cultural diversity harmed my family. Sikhs are already so marginalized as a population and growing up in a place with little cultural diversity furthered that marginalization. 

This experience with marginalization is why I got so physically angry when I heard the news come out of Indianapolis. There is a real intense pain felt when you look at the TV and think that an atrocity like this could realistically happen to your family. Black folks, Indigenous folks and people of color experience this worry on a day-to-day basis as a result of white supremacy. 

Martyrdom is big in our community. We have names of our ancestors who died fighting for the rights of others that we chose to remember and call by name. However, I recognize what martyrdom means in the United States. Martyrs in the United States are people who die innocently that don’t receive justice in their wake. In the United States, martyrdom means cooption by politicians and this view that they died for justice when in reality they should not have died at all. I don’t want to see my people become martyrs in the American sense because that means the lives we lost in Indianapolis were victims of a cycle that will keep perpetuating itself with no justice in hand. 

At the same time of dealing with grief, Sikhs have found themselves being burdened with an explanation of who we are and why we matter. This burden is a clear example of white ignorance when it comes to discussing minority groups. We only matter when we are killed. We feed the poor. We contribute kindness and religious tolerance. We stick up for human rights. Yet, white people don’t know who we are? That’s a problem, especially considering we are the fifth largest religion in the world. 

Sikh hate is linked to a multitude of structures, including colonization, white supremacy, Islamophobia and anti-Asian hate. Sadly, in the United States, we see this hate promoted through these structures which allows for shootings like Indianapolis to occur without tarnishing the name of the justice system. Call it what it is; a hate crime spurred out of white supremacist motive. 

A federal investigation has yet to occur, but Sikhs remain adamant in the need for one. We have fought for justice for a long time, and it will not stop here. Satnam Waheguru Ji. 

            

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Kieron Kessler
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