Forty civil rights organizations, along with the Sikh Coalition, jointly sent a letter to law enforcement officials June 1, demanding justice for an Indian national and a Pakistani national who were accused of terrorism and arrested at gunpoint while riding a Greyhound bus in Amarillo, Texas.
On Feb. 21, Daljeet Singh from India, and his friend, Mohammed Chotri from Pakistan, were on board a Greyhound bus and speaking in Punjabi. According to the Sikh Coalition, a woman on the bus reported to police that the two men were “acting weird,” speaking Arabic, and discussing a bomb.
Two other passengers detained Singh and Chotri in their seats until police came and arrested them at gunpoint. Singh and Chotri were interrogated at length, and taken to jail. Both men were released the following day, with no charges filed against them.
“Mr. Singh’s turban was removed in violation of his religious rights and not returned to him until the next evening after he was released from detention,” wrote the organizations, in a letter sent to Potter County, Texas Sheriff Brian Thomas and Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley.
“Mug shots of him without his turban were taken and widely distributed to the local media, causing him shame and grief. For a Sikh, the forced removal of a turban is akin to a strip search,” wrote the organizations. “To add insult to injury, Mr. Singh was even accused by a deputy of pretending to not know how to speak English, when in fact he is from India and recently applied for asylum in the United States.”
“Mr. Singh believes that he and Mr. Chotri were profiled because of their skin color and language abilities, and in the case of Mr. Singh, also because of his turban,” said the Sikh Coalition.
“The undersigned groups believe strongly that no one should be subject to discriminatory treatment and policing on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or English language skills. This humiliating and offensive encounter could have been avoided if the officers were properly trained in diversity and nondiscrimination; had summoned an interpreter to the scene immediately so that the two Punjabi speakers could explain themselves; or more thoroughly investigated the basis for the terrorism allegation, including rigorously questioning the passenger who filed the false police report,” wrote the organizations in their letter to Thomas and Brumley, adding: “All of us have the right to live in America free from profiling and law enforcement abuse.”
The organizations asked to review the anti-profiling policies of the Sheriff’s Department, and requested that the county require each officer to undergo diversity training. The group also asked the county to provide translation services, and to investigate future incidents of discriminatory behavior.
“I still cannot believe that this happened to me in America,” Daljeet Singh told local press after the incident. “The only crime I committed was wearing a turban, having a beard, and speaking in a different language to another brown man on the bus.”
“What happened to these two men is unconscionable. We intend to work closely with local authorities on their training procedures and response protocols to ensure that history isn’t repeated,” said Sikh Coalition policy director Arjun Singh.
“The steady stream of xenophobic rhetoric from politicians in Texas has contributed to a climate in which innocent people are targeted for discrimination, racial profiling and police overreach,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas.
“In a state as diverse as our own, it’s unacceptable that anyone could be arrested, searched, interrogated and forced to spend the night in jail for speaking Punjabi on a Greyhound bus. And, in a state as deeply religious as Texas, we should demand that police respect all faith traditions,” she said.