On Wednesday, November 26, 2008 Tagore family was burglarized.
The events that followed once the police arrived are disturbing
Brutality Against NRI Sikh Tagore family
Sikh family accuses deputies
of abuse, taunts
Dec. 5, 2008, 10:44PM
The Harris County Sheriff's Office is investigating
allegations that deputies harassed a family of Sikhs whose home
was burglarized last week. Family members say the deputies handcuffed
them, roughed them up and taunted them instead of taking a report
on the break-in.
One deputy reportedly asked them if they'd "heard
about the bombings in Bombay." Another allegedly said he had
been to Kuwait and "knew about Muslims."
Since 9/11, misperceptions about Sikhs' religiously
mandated turbans and beards have led to an increase in discrimination
against Sikhs, according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition. The
family reported the incident to the Coalition, which called for
the sheriff's office to fire the four deputies involved and issue
a formal apology to the family.
"The allegations, if they're true, are certainly
intolerable and inconsistent with our policies," said sheriff's
spokesman John Legg. The deputies could face anything from disciplinary
action to termination, Legg said. He declined to release their names
pending further investigation.The Sikh family returned home to the
10800 block of Oak Bayou Lane on the night of Nov. 26 to discover
a broken window in a bathroom and belongings strewn on the floor
of the master bedroom. Jewelry and money was missing.
Ramandeep Singh, 28, called 911 and went to the driveway
to greet the deputy when his patrol car pulled up."Right from
that instant, he didn't ask us what was going on or if we were OK,
he just looked at me and he goes, 'Do you have an ID?'" recalled
Singh, who has a beard and wears a turban. Singh offered to retrieve
his ID from the house and invited the officer to accompany him.
After handing over the ID, Singh and his relatives
showed the deputy the broken window. But the deputy couldn't seem
to focus on the break-in, Singh said.
"It just looked like he didn't want to be there," he said.
"I sensed a little uneasiness from him."
Deputy 'freaked out'
Then the deputy noticed his sister's Kirpan, a small
ceremonial knife she wears sheathed on her hip. The Kirpan is a
religious article mandated by the Sikh faith, explained Kawaljeet
Kaur, 35. "It's a constant reminder to me that I need to promote
justice for all," she said. The deputy "freaked out,"
"Before you know it, he has a taser pointed
at her forehead, he's calling for backup, he's raising his voice,
like, 'Shut up, shut up! '"
"I told him, you know, I'm a law-abiding citizen,"
Kaur said. "Treat me with respect." She offered to leave
the room if the Kirpan upset him, but pointed out that it was her
constitutional right to practice her religion in her own home.
"He said, 'I don't care about that,' " Singh remembered.
He said the situation deteriorated when other deputies
arrived and began handcuffing family members, including Kaur's 60-year-old
mother."They were using the f-word, and we had an 8-year-old
in the house," Singh said. One deputy pushed Kaur to the ground
and pressed his knee to her back. "They basically didn't treat
us like humans," she said. "They didn't think they had
to give us any answers or talk to us."
One of the deputies told the family he "knew about Muslims,"
they said. "But even if I was a Muslim, that doesn't mean I'm
a terrorist," Kaur pointed out.
Helpless, in shock
"It was a terrifying experience," she said. "When
a hate crime is committed at your own home, you feel so helpless
and so vulnerable as to who do you call for help. I will probably
think a hundred times before calling 911 ever again." Although
more than a dozen deputies had swarmed the scene, none of them made
any effort investigate the burglary, Singh said. "Imagine the
kind of resources that they're putting into this kind of thing instead
of all the real crime that's going on out there," he said.
"I mean I was just in shock. I didn't think this kind of thing
could happen in Houston."
Hours after the initial 911 call, a supervisor showed up and ordered
the deputies to unhandcuff the family, Singh said.
"He was like, 'Yeah, these guys are young. They don't know
any better,' " Singh said. "I'm like, 'That's fine but
that's no excuse to treat anybody this way.'"
Singh said his family moved to Houston from India more than 20
years ago and consider themselves proud citizens.
Racial profiling people won't make anybody safer and will erode
trust in law enforcement, especially in immigrant communities, said
Neha Singh, western region director for the Sikh Coalition.
"For an incident like this to occur is shameful and shocking,"
she said. "I really don't understand how they could justify
what they did here, and I'm sure they would not have behaved the
same way had the family looked different."
Kawaljeet Kaur, with her brother, Ramandeep Singh, shows her Kirpan,
a ceremonial dagger required by the Sikh faith. Deputies handcuffed
family members after they reported a burglary at their home.