The first Sikh turbaned Policeman in America was gunned down on 27 September 2019 during a routine traffic stop. The joint Sikh and Police funeral ceremony of Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal’s in Cypress, Texas was attended by over 5 thousand mourners. The mourners included family, the Sikh community, the law enforcement community, as well as many from all walks of life, who were moved by his compassion and story. The program started with Kirtan and after the singing, it was followed by English translations of the shabad (Hymn) sung. The Kirtan was followed by tributes from community leader Dr. H. S. Azad, Amy Lasko, and Captain Simratpal Singh from US Army and others. The Law Enforcement Memorial service started with HCSO Honor Guard, music – Rescue, and was followed by Speakers including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Judge Lina Hindalgo, Sheriff Ed. Gonzalez, and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia. After the service, members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said their goodbyes to Dhaliwal with full honors and a 21-gun salute.
End of Watch 09-27-2019
End of watch with Date in Law Enforcement terminology refers to the date, when a Law Enforcement Officer is killed in the Line of Duty, which was 09-27-2019 in case of Sandeep. Sandeep, 42, pulled over a vehicle around 12:45 PM in the 14800 Block of Willancy Court in Cypress, Texas for running the red light. After a brief conversation with the driver of the car, Sandeep returned back to his squad car. Within few seconds the driver ran up after him shooting multiple times from the back on the neck. Sandeep was airlifted to the hospital, where he died.
Robert Solis, 47, the culprit was soon caught and was charged with a capital murder case. Solis had a criminal record that includes a conviction for aggravated assault with weapons, kidnapping, driving intoxicated etc. The tragic death cast a complete gloom not just in the Sikh Community or the law enforcement communities, but the entire city of greater Houston. The groundswell of support and empathy that was seen was unprecedented. Even in his tragic death, Sandeep had united the city and echoes were felt around the nation and the world.
We hear many times that one individual can make a difference, and most of the time we dismiss it as just pep talk. But in this particular event, it was an unprecedented reality and not just pulpit words. The tears dripping down from the cheeks, the banners in the yard, the attendance at the vigils, memorial services were living testimonials that one can really make a difference. Now let us turn back and look at his earlier life.
Call to Duty
The call to duty came to Sandeep, who was engaged in successful trucking business over a decade ago in very strange circumstances. There was a robbery in a Sikh household and the family called 911 for help. The police party which arrived at the scene treated family members like criminals because the daughter was Amritdhari (baptized) and was wearing a ceremonial kirpan (sword). Andy Garcia, who was Sheriff-Elect at that time came to know about the incident and personally came to Gurdwara Sikh Center and apologized on behalf of the police, although he was not yet sworn in. He sought to strengthen the relationship with the Sikh Community and encouraged eligible congregants to apply for police positions. He assured personal support to help the individuals with getting a necessary exemption to wear the turban in uniform.
Sandeep was so inspired and he met Garcia, closed his business, growing his hair again and started his journey in law enforcement as a civilian detention officer. He progressed on to become a peace officer and eventually progressed to become the first Deputy in 2015 to sport a turban in the USA. Thus he came to be known as a trailblazer. His statement to NBC at that time, “As a Sikh American, I felt need to represent the Sikh Community in Law Enforcement.” sums up his deep desire to serve the community.
On duty, he was the first with turban instead of a hat which surely raised not just eyebrows but sarcasm too, which he endured in his mission-driven life. But he mentally strengthened himself for the onslaught which is best summed in his words, “It will be a way of opening up the conversation so I can explain to people what Sikhs are all about.”
The bold initiative in a partnership with then-Sheriff Andy Garcia to implement a religious accommodation policy endeared him to the entire community in the nation. In the process, he became a role model, a hero and inspiration to many others. We will see more on in the next paragraph on Legacy.
The trailblazer surely left an indelible impact not just in the community he served, but his achievements reverberated throughout the nation. The people from all over USA and Canada especially in law enforcement and armed forces came here to honor that legacy. Gurvinder Singh, a New York Police Department officer who traveled to the memorial services, said Dhaliwal’s actions inspired him to seek similar approval in New York.
“He was a motivation to a lot of guys here,” said Singh, president of the Sikh Officers’ Association. “Even though we lost an officer, you’re going to see a lot more Sikh officers out there, and serving our community.” Sartaj Singh Bal said moments before the services “I think he was a hero to the next generation.” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Dhaliwal was “a man of dedication, faith, love and compassion.” New Jersey first Sikh Attorney General Gurbir S Grewal said, “Dhaliwal inspired an entire generation of Sikhs to public service.”
Sandeep represented the richness and diversity of Houston, who stepped outside his comfort zone, to seek friendship with strangers, and helped others and in the process he raised awareness of Sikh Faith. Even in his death on duty he raised the awareness of Sikhism amongst masses and its echo was felt everywhere. Where can one find another example of living the Guru’s teachings of treating everyone as one? He embodied the spirit of the faith he practiced and he spread it around. Let us pray for his soul in these words:
“Sevak kau sevaa ban aaiee. Hukam boojh param padh payee. (SGGS, Pg. No. 292)
Translation: The servant’s purpose is to serve; obeying the Lord’s Command, may he obtain supreme status.