Police are on the hunt for a gunman who reportedly shot a Sikh man in the arm and told him to “go back to your own country.” The 39-year-old victim, who was identified as Deep Rai, was working on his car in his driveway in the East Hill neighborhood of Kent, Washington, on Friday night when someone he didn’t know approached him. The man, who was wearing a mask that covered the lower half of his face, asked something along the lines of “why are you cleaning your car?” An altercation followed and the unknown assailant pushed Rai, a U.S. citizen from India’s Punjab province, to the ground and then pulled out a gun.
Police say they are investigating the shooting as a hate crime. The attack immediately bought to mind the Feb. 22 shooting of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani at a bar in Kansas. The shooter in that case had also confronted the two Indian immigrants before opening fire and killing Kuchibhotla.
India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj took to Twitter to express her condolences and report that Rai was “out of danger.” The top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in India, MaryKay Loss Carlson, also went on Twitter to condemn the attack: “Saddened by shooting in WA. Wishes for a quick and full recovery. As @POTUS said we condemn ‘hate and evil in all its forms’.”
The Sikh Coalition has called for a strong response from national authorities condemning the attack. “While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority,” spokesman Rajdeep Singh said. “Tone matters in our political discourse, because this a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”
Members of the Sikh community are no strangers to hate crimes, in part because they are so easily identifiable because they wear turbans and have beards. There were several instances of discrimination against Sikhs in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In August 2012, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before turning the gun on himself.
Rai’s shooting took place a day after Harnish Patel, a 43-year-old convenience store owner in Lancaster, South Carolina, was shot dead outside his home on Thursday night. But so far authorities said they have not found evidence to label the shooting as a hate crime. “I don’t have any reason to believe that this was racially motivated,” Sheriff Barry Faile said.