SANTA FE, New Mexico, USA—On March 19, 2014, the Sikh Coalition conducted a Sikh Awareness presentation, for the first time, with the Santa Fe Police Department (SFPD) in New Mexico after a kirpan-wearing Sikh faced a series of unfortunate encounters.
In the fall of 2013, Prabhu Singh Khalsa, an Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, was denied entry to the Zozobra Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico because of his religiously-mandated kirpan and threatened with arrest by the event security if he did not leave. As he walked away, one event attendee referred to him as the “White Osama.” A few blocks later, Mr. Khalsa states he was stopped by multiple police officers from the Santa Fe Police Department, man-handled, had his kirpan removed and thrown to the ground, was accused of carrying a deadly weapon, and was finally released after being hassled and threatened.
After the Sikh Coalition legal team filed a complaint, Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, the festival’s host, publicly apologized to Mr. Khalsa and informed him he would be provided an accommodation at future events. Additionally, the Santa Fe Police Department invited the Sikh Coalition for a discussion and training about Sikhs, the articles of faith and how police officers can respect those articles of faith when they interact with members of the Sikh community.
Sikh Coalition Volunteer Advocate Sahaj Singh Khalsa and Siri Nirongkar Singh Khalsa conducted the Sikh Awareness training for the command and supervisory staff of the department, including the Deputy Chiefs. Special attention was given on how to respectfully interact with Sikhs who wear turbans, or kirpans, and how to effectively engage with Sikhs. The presentation was well received and the command staff plan to distribute the training to the rest of the department.
Despite the decades-long presence of Sikhs in Northern New Mexico, this was, for many officers, their first interaction with Sikh Americans. One officer even commented that he had grown up with Sikhs as neighbors, but did not really know much about the faith, and that he was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more.
We express our gratitude to the Santa Fe Police Department for inviting the Sikh Coalition to conduct this training and for working to build a positive relationship with the Sikh community. We also thank the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe for their willingness to take swift remedial action following a very disturbing incident.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges Sikhs everywhere to practice their faith fearlessly.
The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. The Coalition serves as a resource on Sikhs and Sikh concerns for governments, organizations and individuals.
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