Arizona Governor Vetoes Bill Seeking to Remove Name of Sikh Backlash Victim From State 9/11 Monument - Family of Balbir Singh Sodhi and Sikh Community Overjoyed

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Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer invited the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi , America’s first victim of backlash hate-crime after 9/11, to her office and vetoed House Bill # 2230 in their presence which would have removed Balbir Singh Sodhi’s name from the Arizona September 11, 2001 Commemorative Monument marking the tragedy of 9/11, honoring victims and aftermath. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot five times on September 15, 2001 in Mesa, Arizona in an apparent hate violence related to the tragedy of 9/11. Brewer regretted the legislation and she expressed her deepest condolences to the Sodhi family.

Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer invited the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi , America’s first victim of backlash hate-crime after 9/11, to her office and vetoed House Bill # 2230 in their presence which would have removed Balbir Singh Sodhi’s name from the Arizona September 11, 2001 Commemorative Monument marking the tragedy of 9/11, honoring victims and aftermath. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot five times on September 15, 2001 in Mesa, Arizona in an apparent hate violence related to the tragedy of 9/11. Brewer regretted the legislation and she expressed her deepest condolences to the Sodhi family.

According to GuruRoop Kaur Khalsa, a Sikh community activist, “During the meeting, Brewer graciously vetoed House Bill # 2230 to the immense appreciation of Sodhi family and the larger Sikh community”.

Embrace Diversity event showing mass support in AZ in September 2002. Brothers of Balbir Singh Sodhi and diverse leadership can be seen in the picture.

“This is why we love this country. The leadership is responsive. When we met with the Governor today and Representative Kavanagh Tuesday they each honored my brother, our family and our Sikh community with caring concern. We humbly requested that they help us so that our brother’s part in the local and national 9/11 history would not be denied. Our brother represents all 9/11 backlash victims,” responded Balbir Singh Sodhi’s brother Harjit Singh.

Rana Singh Sodhi youngest brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi added, “They honored us so much. In the intensity after September 11th as a community we made a difference. Today, as we head into the tenth anniversary of 9/11 the world is again watching and together as an entire community we reinforced no backlash, no hate, don’t target…. even in times of crises, respect and understanding should prevail. My brother was killed because of the way he looked and our articles of Sikh faith – his turban, and in his heart and on his lips were the words, ‘Please respect, and protect the innocent people.’

“We had requested that the Governor continue to display this quality of leadership. The last ten years we have promoted Arizona’s leadership’s heroic response to our Sikh community and backlash through every media channel and faith community throughout the world including within our own twenty seven million Sikh members. As we prepare for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 erasing Balbir Singh Sodhi from the AZ 9/11 Monument would create such sorrow and a tremendous outcry,” said Sikh Community Spokesperson GuruRoop Kaur Khalsa.

“It is vital that the Arizona September 11, 2001 Commemorative Monument continue to serve as a forewarning that backlash is an “after effect of an attack” and a reminder that “No gentle person, no child, no culture and no religion should be condemned, assaulted or targeted because of the unspeakable acts of others.” said Khalsa. “Backlash murders are the Invisible causalities of September 11th. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first such death categorized as a hate crime.”

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills who introduced the controversial bill to alter the Arizona 9/11 Monument apologized on Tuesday to the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi, saying he misunderstood the case. Kavanagh met with Rana Singh Sodhi, his brother Harjit Singh, and GuruRoop Kaur Khalsa,. He clarified that he wanted to remove political statements and that the felt that the memorial should be limited only to victims who died on 9/11 and more like a gravestone.

He sought to remove the panel containing the key phrase, "09 15 01 Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, murdered in Mesa" plus 11 other inscriptions which according to him were offensive such as "Foreign-born Americans afraid," ''Must bomb back" and "You don't win battles of terrorism with more battles."

After the meeting with the family he proposed a plan that would put Balbir Singh Sodhi's name back on the Monument if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto the bill with new wording describing Sodhi's murder with "09 15 01 Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, First backlash hate-crime murder victim” and dropping the phrase "fear of foreigners".

"I apologized for dredging up the sorrow once again. I apologized for any misunderstanding," Kavanagh said. Rana Singh Sodhi deeply appreciated Kavanagh's apology and his offer to correct the error but still opposed HB2230.

"I am so comfortable. When I met him, he was so responsive and understanding. I have no revenge," Rana Singh Sodhi said.

Opposition to 9/11 Monument alterations got support from many quarters including a sizable Asian community in AZ , the Arizona InterFaith Movement and AZ 9/11 Commission, a citizens committee that planned the memorial, urging a veto. In addition, Anti-Defamation League, an active Jewish organization who fights bigotry, hate-crimes and extremism, came in support of the Sodhi family and urged the lawmakers to alter the action on this bill.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley a Republican, who prosecuted the case against Balbir Singh Sodhi’s murderer, also opposed the bill and blamed Kavanaugh for not doing his ‘homework’. According to him the shooting of Balbir Singh Sodhi was meant as retaliation for 9/11 based on the Sodhi’s killer’s own admissions.

Balbir Singh Sodhi family members, GuruRoop Kaur Khalsa and Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev reached out to all communities and leaders to express their opinion on this issue. Arizonians of various political and religious spectrum came out in support of this effort similar to the outpour of support to the Sikhs after 2001. Sodhi family has appreciated support from Sikhs across America and thanked community leaders for their hard work.

Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev, Sikh community leader in Phoenix, expressed his satisfaction at the outcome and said, “ This is truly a great relief that this Monument will remain as is and will continue to remind how this great nation honors its fallen heroes.”

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), lauded the role of the Sodhi family and Khalsa for their outreach efforts and building a strong relationship with various political and religious communities in AZ to keep the positive profile of the Sikh community. He said, “This reminds us that we must stay engaged in the fabric of American society to make people aware of our issues and traditions.” He added, “ Governor Jan Brewer has sent a right message to the entire nation and the world that the tragic lessons of 9/11 and its victims cannot be easily forgotten. This Monument is critical and it ought to teach an important lesson to coming generations of Americans to live in harmony with each other.”

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