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‘Courageous vulnerability’: Sikhs reflect on targeted attacks after FedEx shooting

We take a moment to remember the lives lost in the recent FedEx shooting. While we still don't know about the suspect's motive, half of those killed were Sikhs. The Sikh community, which has grown over many years in the Indianapolis area, is in mourning. Simran Jeet Singh, a senior fellow at the Sikh coalition who is connected to the Indianapolis community, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now let's return to the impact of the shootings in Indianapolis.

    Eight people lost their lives last week at a FedEx facility there. We wanted to take a moment to remember them and the legacies they left behind.

    Sixty-six-year-old Amarjeet Kaur Johal worked at the FedEx sorting facility to help support her family. Her granddaughter tweeted — quote — "After the passing of her mother, she never let her sisters feel that void. What a harsh and cruel world we live in."

    Samaria Blackwell, 19, was the youngest of four siblings. Her family remembered her as someone who — quote — "loved people," especially those of advanced age. She always found time to invest in the older generation.

    Karli Smith, also 19, was born and raised in Indianapolis, where she graduated from high school just last year. Indianapolis Public Schools released a statement calling Smith "a bright light wherever she went."

    Amarjit Sekhon was a hardworking mother of two in her late '40s whose husband was disabled. She worked the overnight shift her son Diljot told reporters — quote — "just so that she could provide food for everyone in the house."

    Thirty-two-year-old Matthew Alexander was a dispatcher at the FedEx facility and known for his big heart. A former co-worker told reporters — quote — "Everybody liked him. He was always saving somebody. He was a good kid."

    Jasvinder Kaur, 50, loved to cook and had hopes of bringing her son to the United States from India, but coronavirus delayed her plans. A relative told reporters — quote — "There's a saying that, when a mother loves, her love comes out in food. She was a mother to us."

    John Steve Weisert was a retired engineer working to earn some extra money on the side. Later this year he would've celebrated 50 years of marriage with his wife, Mary. The oldest victim of the shooting, Weisert was 74.

    Sixty-eight-year-old Jaswinder Singh had just recently taken a job at FedEx. He was reportedly killed while waiting in line for his first paycheck. His nephew told reporters — quote — "He was always positive, always nice, and I never saw him angry."

    While we still don't know about the motive of the suspect, half of those killed were Sikh Americans. The Sikh community in Indianapolis has grown over many years, and is now mourning its losses.

    Simran Jeet Singh is a senior fellow at the Sikh Coalition. He's been in contact with the families in Indianapolis. He's also a lecturer at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. And he joins me now.

    Simran, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for being here.

    You have been in touch with those families. We can't imagine their pain right now. But just give us a sense of what they are going through right now, what they are telling you.

  • Simran Jeet Singh:

    You know, the Sikhs who lost loved ones in Indiana, as you can imagine, they're hurting, they're grieving, they're outraged, and they're frustrated.

    And they're also filled with determination and resilience. And, as I have listened to surviving family members, I have heard a fierce determination that their lives will not be lost in vain, and that moments like these are catalysts for meaningful action.

    And like all groups, the beauty of the Sikh community is that it doesn't have just one feeling about such a tragic event. The attack evokes historic trauma, feelings of deep solidarity with all of the impacted families. And it forces all of us to engage a very difficult and a very public conversation about what it means to be American today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Simran, as we mentioned, the police are still investigating a motive, if one is to be determined.

    But among the community on the ground, what is the feeling? Is there a sense that they were targeted in some way?

  • Simran Jeet Singh:

    Yes, I don't know what the officials will conclude, but I will share what we can see, that a disturbed young white man who shouldn't have had access to guns targeted a FedEx facility where Sikhs make up a large and visible population of the workers.

    And he killed Baptists and he killed Sikhs. And at the end of the day, a life is a life. And, at the same time, we can't look away from the pattern of hate violence that has targeted Sikhs in the recent past, including the 2012 massacre in Oak Creek, for one example.

    So, as a community, we're facing steep challenges, ranging from the farmers protests in India to standing shoulder to shoulder with groups targeted by white supremacists across America. And our faith guides us to do so in ways that uplift ourselves and others, especially during difficult times like this one.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned that mass shooting that did target the Sikh community in Wisconsin back in 2012.

    Among the community, for families in there, can you tell us, even all these years later, how is that impact still felt?

  • Simran Jeet Singh:

    The impact of something like that never goes away.

    When your community is targeted, it leaves a scar in your collective psyche. And the Sikh community is a visible, politically engaged and spiritually aware community. And there are times like, after 9/11 and after the Oak Creek massacre, where we felt targeted, even if Americans couldn't clearly describe who a Sikh is.

    And, today, we see ourselves as an active force in building a more just, a more equitable America. And in the process, we know that our high visibility will make us targets. And although the reason for the targeting may change over time, our visibility puts us on the front lines against a regressive and a racist vision of America.

    And I think that part of our experience, this courageous vulnerability, that's part of our tradition, too. And it's one that comes with a steep cost. But it's also a commitment that I'm proud of and that I know many Sikhs are proud of. And I don't see any of us giving up on our commitments anytime soon.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, all our hearts go out to all of those who lost a loved one in Indianapolis.

    And we're grateful to you, Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh Coalition, for joining us tonight. Thank you.

  • Simran Jeet Singh:

    Thank you. Glad to be with you.

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