Monday, September 06, 2004

Sikh trucker accuses Oregon police of abuse

By Daniel Witter/Appeal-Democrat

Some members of the Yuba-Sutter Sikh community are outraged over an alleged racial profiling and beating of a Yuba City Sikh truck driver by an Oregon State Police officer Wednesday.

Gurpal Singh Gill, 44, said he was driving a truckload of produce from Stockton to Tacoma, Wash., when he was pulled over by a state police officer, cuffed and then beaten near the city of Roseburg in southwestern Oregon.

Gill said he suffered scrapes to his face and shoulders and pain in his lower back from the incident. He also had a ceremonial knife, called a kirpan, taken from him, he said.

"This is a gross violation of his fundamental rights," said Harbans Sraon, a fellow Sikh who translated for Gill Friday at the Appeal-Democrat office in Marysville. "The Sikh community is very offended."

The Punjabi-American Heritage Society and the Sikh Coalition are considering legal action against the officer for the incident, according to Dr. Jasbir Kang, a member of the Society.

"They (the state police) should have the courtesy to drop the charges," Sraon said. Gill said there was no reason to pull him over as he was obeying the traffic laws.

Gill is of the Sikh faith, whose origins come from the state of Punjab in northern India. Sikhs believe in one God, tolerance of other faiths and equality of both sexes. As an article of faith, male followers grow out their beards and hair and wear a turban around their heads. Females often wear scarves over their heads, but no veils.

The Sikh faith calls for baptized followers to bear five symbols - uncut hair, a comb, a steel bracelet, special undergarments, and the kirpan. Gill is a baptized Sikh.

Sikhs are sometimes confused with Muslims, a separate religion of people who follow the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, who also preaches of one God.

Wednesday's incident affects not only Sikhs, but everyone who looks different or has a different faith from others, Sraon said.

"We should all get together on this thing," he said.

Gill said he was enroute to deliver produce to Tacoma when the officer pulled him over at about 4:15 p.m.

The officer approached the driver side of the truck and told Gill to open the door. When Gill complied, he said the officer drew his weapon on him and stated that Gill was under arrest.

Gill said he climbed out of the truck with his hands raised and went to his knees on the officer's instruction, then put his hands behind his back.

The officer allegedly dragged Gill to the ground, shoved a knee into his back and shoved his head into the ground as he handcuffed him, he said.

The officer then told him that the police look to pull over people who look as though they are from India, Pakistan and or of the Sikh faith, which Gill and Sraon said is racial profiling and illegal.

The officer put Gill into the back of the patrol car for an hour and a half. During that time, two other officers arrived in a truck and they reviewed a videotape of the incident.

Gill said they checked his cab and truck and found nothing wrong. The officer then took the cuffs off Gill and set him free, but not before he issued Gill a citation.

According to that citation, Gill was cited for carrying a concealed weapon and told to appear in Douglas County Court in Roseburg on Oct. 20.

Gill presented the officer with a copy of a proclamation from the city of Stockton calling for an end to racial discrimination, but the officer said such a proclamation had no standing in Oregon, Gill said.

No one from the southwest division of the Oregon State Police where the incident occurred could be reached for comment Friday evening.

Sraon said the kirpan is not a weapon but a religious symbol and therefore protected by law under the first amendment of the Constitution.

"It's a symbol," he said.

Gill is an American citizen who just has a different belief system than other people.

"He should not be victimized because of his convictions," Sraon said. He said many Sikhs left Indian to come to the U.S. because of the freedom of religion. Wednesday's incident sends out a very different message, Sraon and Gill said.

Sikhs are peaceable people who are contributing members of society and said there could be ripple affects from the incident.

"Truck drivers are concerned if it continues to happen, they'll lose their livelihood," he said.

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