KENT, Wash. (AP) — A Sikh man said a gunman approached him as he worked on his car in his suburban Seattle driveway and told him to “go back to your own country” before shooting him in the arm, authorities say.
Police in the city of Kent are searching for the shooter and have contacted the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. It comes after an Indian man was killed and another wounded in a recent shooting at a Kansas bar that federal agencies are investigating as a hate crime after witnesses say the suspect yelled “get out of my country.”
“With recent unrest and concern throughout the nation, this can get people emotionally involved, especially when (the crime) is directed at a person for how they live, how they look,” Kent police Cmdr. Jarod Kasner told The News Tribune of Tacoma.
India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, identified the victim on Twitter early Sunday, saying, “I am sorry to know about the attack on Deep Rai, a U.S. national of Indian origin.”
She said she had spoken to Rai’s father, who told her Rai is out of danger and recovering in a hospital.
Rai told police that a man he didn’t know came up to him Friday night and they got into an argument, with the suspect telling Rai to go back to his homeland. He described the shooter as 6 feet tall and white with a stocky build, police said. He said the man was wearing a mask covering the lower half of his face.
Sikhs have previously been the target of assaults in the U.S. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the backlash that hit Muslims around the country expanded to include those of the Sikh faith.
Male observant Sikhs often cover their heads with turbans, which are considered sacred, and refrain from shaving their beards. The faith comes from South Asia’s Punjab region.
In 2012, a man shot and killed six Sikh worshippers and wounded four others at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee before killing himself.
The Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights group, asked local and federal authorities to investigate the shooting in suburban Seattle as a hate crime.
“We’re early on in our investigation,” Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas told the Seattle Times on Saturday. “We are treating this as a very serious incident.”
Hira Singh, a Sikh community leader in Kent, said Sunday that the news was a shock to him.
“This kind of incident shakes up the whole community,” he said.
He said there have been increasing complaints recently from Sikh community members who say they have been the target of foul language or other comments.
About 50,000 Sikhs live in Washington state, with most in the Puget Sound region, he said.
“It was disheartening to see it happening here in my community,” Satwinder Kaur said. “Kent is a very diverse community. We haven’t seen a hate crime happening at this level.”
Kaur said she had arranged for Kent’s police chief to talk to the community Saturday about their concerns on immigration and the role of local police officers. After the shooting, the meeting turned into a question-and-answer session about the crime, she said.
“When someone says ‘Get out of my country,’ it’s a hate crime, there’s no question,” Kaur said. “The community has been shaken up.”