Law enforcement officials from all levels of government met with members of the Charlotte Sikh community on Sunday in the latest effort to build communication and bonds between the two.
Just a week ago, Chief Rodney Monroe and a few of his officers met with the Sikh community, following a shooting two weeks ago at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six people dead. But Sundays meeting included a broad cross-section of law enforcement official from the local, state and national levels.
Several weeks ago, we were horrified once again by gun violence, said Anne Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the western district of North Carolina. We gather today to mourn and unite with you and to celebrate that faith is a great healer.
Tompkins and members of the FBI; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police led an hour-long discussion with local Sikhs on Sunday afternoon at their temple on Stoney Creek Lane in University City.
Tompkins recalled how she first met members of the Charlotte temple 18 months ago during a visit.
We want to thank you all for the warm embrace of friendship, Tompkins said. Weve been strong partners because the Department of Justice and the Sikh community share a mutual interest in civil rights.
Law enforcement officials and member of the temple discussed bullying in schools, discrimination in the community and the need to further educate others about their faith during their hour-long meeting, which was not open to the press.
Although the FBI doesnt track hate crimes against Sikhs separately, the organization United Sikhs USA has documented several hundred hate crimes cases since 9/11.
In addition to the recent shooting in Wisconsin, other hate crimes against Sikhs have included the murders of Gurmej Singh Atwal and Surinder Singh in Elk Grove, Calif., in March 2011, the desecration of the Sikh Gurdwara in Sterling Heights, Mich., and the fire-bombing of a Sikh-owned convenience store on the North Carolina and Georgia border in September 2011.
Many Sikhs on Sunday said they felt education was key to preventing such hate crimes from continuing.
We want to let everyone know well do everything in our power to educate people about who we are, said member Ajay Singh.
Tompkins told the media that her office is working on several initiatives to increase cultural understanding, including training law enforcement officials on Sikhism traditions.
For instance, Sikhs carry a kirpan, or a blunt knife, as part of their religious uniform. Tompkins noted that that item should not be considered in the same way as a knife and should not raise concern in the public.
She is also organizing an anti-bullying summit with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for October. Tompkins said she would like the Sikh community to have a prominent role in that event.
The summits goal would be to help kids have a better understanding of cultural differences at an early age so that they dont grow up knowing discrimination, she said.
The need for diversity training and tolerance discussions is always paramount, said Tompkins.