An excerpt from a Sikh Coalition email, transmitted this week:
Simran Singh felt a bullet fly past his ear. He had just turned his head to answer a passenger’s question.
Simran (name changed to protect his identity), an undocumented immigrant, works as a cab driver in New York City. Like most Sikh cab drivers, Simran kept flyers in his cab during the weeks after 9/11. The flyers stated that Sikhs had nothing to do with the attacks on our country. They said Sikhs love America.
For Sikh cabbies the flyers were a form of protection. Sikh cab drivers heard taunts and jeers from passengers accusing them of being terrorists after the 9/11 tragedy. Customers asked cab drivers why “their people” had attacked “us.” In Queens a Sikh’s cab was set on fire.
Simran hoped the flyers would protect him from taunts and violence. He kept extra copies in his cab to hand to passengers. He even laminated and posted one on the back of his seat facing his passengers.
None of this saved him from violence or a cruel choice.
On September 30, 2001 Simran Singh was driving his cab. As he waited at a traffic light that night on 57 th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, a customer asked a question. As Simran turned to answer the question, a bullet passed close to his left ear. The person who shot at him drove quickly away.
In a state of shock, Simran pulled over. His passenger ran out of his cab. He saw a bullet hole in his window.
Simran’s life may have been saved by his passenger’s question. If he had not turned his head, the bullet would have hit the left side of his face. Simran did not know who shot at him. He was just happy to be alive.
Simran contacted the Sikh Coalition requesting its assistance. He told the Coalition that he had filed a police report but that the officer who took his report was rude and did not take him seriously. Simran hoped that pressure from the Sikh community would compel the police to thoroughly investigate the shooting.
But there was a problem.
As an undocumented immigrant, Simran ran the risk of his undocumented status being discovered by the police if he pursued this matter vigorously. In New York City, hundreds of immigrants had been rounded up by federal immigration authorities in the weeks after 9/11. There was a chance that local police would reveal his undocumented status to federal authorities.
Simran had a cruel choice to make: either vigorously push the police to pursue the man who shot at him and risk his undocumented status being discovered or stay silent and remain in the United States.
Simran understandably chose to stay silent. But the Sikh community and its fight to end hate crimes suffered as a result. America also suffers. A man with a gun still roams the city’s streets.
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