September 15 marked the 14th anniversary of the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi. He died in the first fatal act of hate violence after September 11, 2001, when he was shot while arranging American flags in front of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona.
His assailant was Frank Roque, a man who openly announced “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” at a restaurant bar the evening of 9/11 and later told police “I’m a patriot and an American.” After shooting Sodhi, Roque sped off in his truck and shot at the home of an Afghani-American couple and fired shots at Lebanese-American Anwar Khalil at another gas station. Fortunately, Roque did not kill anyone in those two shootings.
Turban of Balbir Singh Sodhi, murdered in Arizona after 9/11. (National Museum of Natural History) pic.twitter.com/3UPGK4PFCo
— Rinascità (@InMirzWords) March 1, 2015
In a sense, it is hard not to remember Balbir Singh Sodhi, and the kind of hate crime that killed him. 9/11-related hate crimes like the vicious attack on Inderjit Singh Mukker in Chicago last week are still happening in 2015. Federal agencies weren’t tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Arabs or Hindus before 9/11/01 or for more than a decade after, but starting this year, the FBI and DOJ are finally tracking such events.
Hate crime incidents against Muslims have been tracked before and after 2001, and the stats show that these events are still five times more common after that year than they were before 2001.
Sodhi was a husband and the father of two daughters, not to mention part of an extended family that spanned the globe, and he had lived and worked in the United States since 1989. SALDEF provides a brief biography with more information about Balbir Singh Sodhi.
Following his death, he became the subject of a PBS documentary, A Dream in Doubt, and his brother Rana Singh Sodhi worked to create awareness of Sikhs locally and nationally and to promote diversity and tolerance for all people. His niece, who was age 7 when he died, also publicly spoke out for tolerance at her high school.
When an ill-conceived bill was sponsored in 2011 to remove Sodhi’s name from Arizona’s 9/11 memorial, his family and community representatives, including SALDEF, advocated on behalf of his memory and that of other 9/11 backlash victims to successfully keep it on the memorial.
A poem by Preeti Kaur, shared in Samar Magazine in 2002, also pays tribute to the memory of Balbir Singh Sodhi.
My Father Lives
In memorial of Balbir Singh Sodhi,
murdered September 15, 2001,
the victim of the first hate crime to result in death
after the World Trade Center attacks.
my father lives in new york’s buildings
which scrape the sky
my father lives in afghanistan’s mountains
which kiss the moon
my father lives in mesa, arizona desert plain
which swallows the first sand
yes my father
Balbir Singh Sodhi yes
Read the rest of the poem here.