Two months ago, when Rana Singh Sodhi was selected to be among a group of speakers at the Arizona Crime Prevention Association’s Diversity and Inclusion conference scheduled for Thursday in Mesa, little did he know the added importance his speech will have.
For a little more than the last decade, Singh Sodhi of the Sikh community has been educating others about his religion that emphasizes God, peace, understanding, pride and respect. He speaks out against hate and violence.
It is something he and his family know all too well – and something that came back to him quickly Sunday following the shooting spree inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that left six dead and three wounded.
It reminded him of an incident that received international attention: the day Sing Sodhi lost his brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, to a hate crime in Mesa. Four days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a man saw his brother donned in a turbin, mistook him for a Muslim and fatally shot him as he was planting flowers outside his Chevron station at East University Drive and 80th Street in east Mesa.
Sunday’s Wisconsin shootings also reminded him of another incident that occurred 10 months after he lost brother Balbir: Another brother, Sukhpal Singh Sodhi, 47, was found shot to death inside his cab in San Francisco. Police believe that Sukhpal was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was discovered about 4 a.m. that day, but Rana believes that Sukhpal, too, was killed because someone mistook him for a Muslim.
The deaths of his two brothers are a painful memory the Sing Sodhi now shares with the family members and friends of the six Sikhs killed in Sunday’s shooting spree by a military veteran authorities say was sporting a Sept. 11, 2001 commemoration tattoo on one arm, and who is believed to have mistook the Sikh community for Muslims. In what is being labeled as a domestic act of terrorism, the suspected gunman also injured three others, including the first officer responding to the scene before another officer shot and killed him.
“It breaks my heart,” said Singh Sodhi, 45, of Sunday’s tragedy. “Why would someone have to die? Because they are wearing a turbin? Because their skin is brown?”
On Monday, among a small crowd of late lunch diners eating tandoori chicken and homemade garlic bread inside the Guru Palace Indian restaurant he owns in Mesa, Singh Sodhi said, “It’s shocking. It brings back memories of what you’ve been through. You see the pain of the families of the loved ones knowing those killed were somebody’s son, somebody’s husband. When someone dies from natural causes, it is painful enough, but when someone is shot and killed by hate, it becomes more painful.”
Phoenix police have increased patrols around the three Sikh temples in the Valley, all in Phoenix, and temple members are planning to implement more security measures in their places of worship, Singh Sodhi said.
Singh Sodhi and his wife, Sukhi, of Gilbert, were home on Sunday when they heard the news about the tragedy in Oak Creek. In fact, Rana said two of his friends attend the temple where the shootings happened, but after calling them on the phone, he learned they were not at the temple that day. Since Sunday, he has been fielding numerous phone calls from the national and international media seeking interviews for his insights about the shootings, including the Al-Jazeer station in London and CNN.
At 9 a.m. Thursday, Singh Sodhi will speak during the Diversity and Inclusion conference at the Mesa Public Safety Training Facility, 3260 N. 40th St., Mesa. Other speakers include Don Logan, the former director of diversity and dialogue for the city of Scottsdale, who was victim of a mail bomb attack, and Calvin Terrell, the founder of Social Centric, an organization that provides diversity training to companies and educates students against hate speech and prejudice.
On Sept. 15, 2001, Singh Sodhi was working at his gas station In Phoenix when he received the news from authorities that his older brother, Balbir Sing Sodhi was shot outside his gas station.
“In the last 10 years, I have tried to educate people against hate and violence,” added, Singh Sodhi, who always wears a turbin in public. “We don’t want this to happen anywhere. It’s important to continue doing that to protect innocent people. We always attend the Sept. 11 memorial events, not to just remember my brother, but all of the victims who died in the terrorist attacks. I remember my brother always as very loving and a giving person. I was encouraged to follow his teachings. When Balbir was killed, small children came to his gas station and cried and said that he gave them free candy.”
Sukhi Singh Sodhi said of Sunday’s tragedy and remembering her slain brother-in-laws, “It’s painful, very painful. It’s senseless, without any reason. After 10 years, it makes us remember everything. You miss your family members all the time, every moment.”
The man who shot and killed Balbir Singh Sodhi is serving a life sentence in prison; the murder of Sukhpal Sing Sodhi remains unsolved.
“Because the man who shot my brother is serving a life sentence in prison, it gives me peace, it gives me comfort,” Singh Sodhi said. “My religion teaches me to live your life in pride, with justice and protect the innocent. If someone does something wrong, we must step forward and do something about it to plan for better measures for our children.”
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