December 11, 2015 (Buena Park, CA) - In the cover of darkness between Saturday night and Sunday morning, a California Sikh gurdwara (house of worship), along with a community member’s truck in the parking lot, were vandalized with hateful graffiti. The graffiti included the phrase, "Fuck ISIS," along with gang references.
Local community members and leadership at the Gurdwara Singh Sabha contacted police on Sunday evening and reached out to the Sikh Coalition on Monday for direct legal and communications support. While the Sikh Coalition’s legal team worked to open a hate crimes investigation and coordinate with law enforcement, the communications team worked to prepare press materials and move forward a media plan that placed awareness on the crime.
“Our first priority was to work with community leaders and law enforcement to ensure the safety of the local Sikh community,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Senior Staff Attorney, Gurjot Kaur. “The second priority was to make sure that local law enforcement properly investigated this act of vandalism as a hate crime and that media attention was effectively used to apply additional pressure.”
By Wednesday afternoon the Sikh Coalition was driving newspapers and television networks back to local community leadership for interviews, and by Wednesday evening the Buena Park Police Department had formally opened a hate crimes investigation into the case and made an arrest. Brodie Durazo of Buena Park, a 20 year-old, was arrested for vandalism at a place of worship. According to local police, Mr. Durazo confessed to vandalizing both the gurdwara and the tractor-trailer containing the hateful slurs. It is unknown if other individuals were involved in the crime. The Sikh Coalition will continue to work with the gurdwara and the local prosecutor’s office to push for appropriate charges.
“We are grateful for the immediate support we have received from the Sikh Coalition,” said Gurdwara Singh Sabha President, Inderjot Singh. “Their coordinated support on behalf of our sangat has been instrumental in increasing pressure on law enforcement through their legal advocacy and media work.”
“We commend the Buena Park Police Department for making a swift arrest and for their prompt response in this matter," said Gurjot Kaur. "This act of hatred didn’t occur in a vacuum. Today’s hostile political climate perpetuates hate and xenophobia in America, and has contributed to a growing backlash against Sikh, Muslim and many other minority communities. We urge our politicians to eliminate the hateful rhetoric and policies, which endanger all Americans. Divisiveness leads to violence. We remain strongest when we stand together.”
Police are still searching for the owner of the vandalized tractor-trailer with the hate slurs/graffiti, as this person is both a victim and a possible witness. We understand that he may be from out of town, possibly Texas, and was passing through the Buena Park area. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-655-3095 ext. 85 if you have any information that can help us find him.
While the Sikh Coalition understands that we’re living through a moment of increased fear and anxiety for what it means to be Sikh in America, we continue to strongly discourage highlighting “mistaken identity” when incidents of hate emerge. Describing violence against Sikhs this way implies that it would be correct to target Muslims. Further, it ignores the fact that Sikhs may be targeted for a number of reasons, including xenophobia and specific bias against the Sikh religious appearance itself, including turbans and beards. Sikh Americans know too well that no community deserves to be attacked for how they look or what they believe. We stand in solidarity with every faith community, and understand that no community is safe until we are all safe.
The Sikh Coalition’s legal team is monitoring the uptick in hate crimes and responding to individual cases/requests for support as they arise. Currently the Sikh Coalition’s lawyers are also responding with legal support around a reported possible hate crime case in Bakersfield, California. We will issue updates on other cases as appropriate.
As always, we urge Sikhs everywhere to practice their faith fearlessly.