Murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi

Balbir Singh Sodhi (July 6, 1949 – September 15, 2001),[1] a Sikh-American entrepreneur and franchisee in Mesa, Arizona, was murdered in a hate crime in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This was the first of several cases across the United States that were reported to the police as supposed acts of retaliation for the attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi, who had a beard and wore a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith, was mistakenly profiled as an Arab Muslim and murdered by 42-year-old Frank Silva Roque (July 8, 1959 – May 11, 2022),[2] a Boeing aircraft mechanic at a local repair facility who held a criminal record for an attempted robbery in California. Roque had reportedly told friends that he was "going to go out and shoot some towel-heads" the day of the attacks.[3] Roque was sentenced to death (commuted later to life imprisonment) for first degree murder. He died in prison on May 11, 2022.[4]

Balbir Singh Sodhi
Born(1949-07-06)July 6, 1949
DiedSeptember 15, 2001(2001-09-15) (aged 52)
Occupation(s)Entrepreneur, franchisee, computer engineer/analyst (formerly)

Background edit

Born on July 6, 1949, in Jalandhar, Punjab, India, Balbir Singh Sodhi was a member of the Sikh religion, from the Jat clan. He was also a husband, and father to three sons and two daughters.[5][6] He immigrated to the United States in 1989 and initially resided in Los Angeles, where he worked as a computer engineer and analyst at HP. He saved enough money to buy a gas station and several affiliated franchises in Phoenix, Arizona, and moved there.[7] Sodhi's gas station had been running for just a year prior leading to his murder and in that time he had become known amongst the community as a generous and kind man who often gave free candy to children who came in.[8]

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist group, hijacked four airplanes and perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, killing 2,977 victims. According to family members, Sodhi had become distraught by the attacks.[9]

Shooting of Sodhi, others edit

On September 15, 2001, Roque took his Chevrolet S-10 from the Wild Hare sports bar in Mesa, where he had reportedly been ranting about immigrants, and drove to the Chevron gas station owned by Sodhi. Roque shot Sodhi five times from his truck with a .380 handgun, killing him. At the time of the shooting, Sodhi was helping landscaper Luis Ledesma plant flowers in order to commemorate the lives of those lost in the 9/11 attacks[10] around the edge of his gas station. Roque, who apparently wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks, racially profiled him as an Arab Muslim because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard.

Roque then drove to a Mobil gas station 10 miles away. Twenty minutes after the first shooting, he shot at a Lebanese-American clerk from his truck, but missed.[11] Roque then drove to his former residence, which had been purchased by a local Afghan family, and fired multiple rounds at the outside of the house. After fleeing the scene of the final shooting, Roque was reported to have gone to a local bar and boasted, "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street."[12][1]

Attitudes towards the Sikh community post-9/11 edit

Sodhi's murder was preceded by multiple hostile incidences in the Phoenix area, targeted at Sikhs in the days following the 9/11 attacks. A Sikh spokesperson stated that it was difficult for Sikhs in the community to go to work at gas stations or to work as cashiers because of the rise in overt harassment towards them.[13] This spokesperson also described how the appearance of Sikh men make them easy targets due to their beards and turbans which make Sikh men "look more like bin Laden than Muslims do".[13]

After the 9/11 attacks, there was a lot of eagerness to retaliate against those who perpetrated the terror attacks, and members of the Sikh community, mainly men, became the targets of these retaliations.[14] Sikhs became the victims of a multitude of hate crimes such as murder, redundancy, threats, and the burning of their places of worship (Gurudwaras).[14]

Many Sikhs began experiencing acts of discrimination within their friendships and relationships that were formed prior to the terror attacks.[14] Their relationships became strained due to suspicion, with Sikh men being asked to cut their hair and to stop wearing their turbans in order to mitigate further suspicion.

Arrest, trial, and conviction of shooter edit

Police arrested Roque the next day, initially unaware of the later shooting incidents. He reportedly shouted slogans including "I am a patriot!" and "I stand for America all the way!" during his arrest.[15] His bail was set at $1 million.

Roque's trial by jury began on August 18, 2003. Defense attorneys argued he was not guilty due to insanity, claiming that he had a diminished IQ and heard relentless voices telling him that Arabs were Satanic and must be killed. Two coworkers testified that Roque was "narrow-minded" and that he hated both immigrants and Arabs. Roque's defense attorney characterized him as mentally ill, and noted that his mother had twice been hospitalized for schizophrenia, a condition which has been shown to appear in those genetically predisposed to it.[16] On September 30, 2003, he was found guilty of first degree murder, and was sentenced to death nine days later.[16]

On July 19, 2005, Roque was found guilty of an unspecified conspiracy charge while in prison, specified only as a violent crime. On February 27, 2006, he was found guilty of having manufactured a primitive weapon in prison three days earlier. In August 2006, the Arizona Supreme Court changed Roque's death sentence to a sentence of life in prison without parole, citing his low IQ and mental illness as mitigating factors.[17][18] The trial was aired by Court TV in a five-part series.[19]

Roque died on May 11, 2022, while in Arizona Department of Corrections custody.[4] He was 62 years old.[2]

Sukhpal Singh Sodhi edit

On August 4, 2002, less than a year after Balbir's death, his younger brother Sukhpal was shot to death while driving his taxicab in San Francisco, apparently killed by a stray bullet from a nearby gang fight. In response to this second tragedy, Balbir's son said, "What are you going to do with anger? We like peace and we are peaceful people."[20]

Memorialization of Balbir Singh Sodhi edit

In the months prior to the 10-year anniversary of Sodhi's death, the Arizona legislature decided that they wanted to remove Sodhi's name and plaque from the state's 9/11 memorial. This was vetoed by the governor after an outcry of advocacy from community groups in the area.[21]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  2. ^ a b "Death Row Inmate Profiles". Archived from the original on January 13, 2009. Retrieved July 3, 2022.
  3. ^ Karr, Valarie (September 23, 2016). "His brother was murdered for wearing a turban after 9/11. 15 years later, he spoke to the killer". Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Singh-Sodi, Rana (June 7, 2022). "The man who murdered my brother post-9/11 just died. This is why I mourn him". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona: Gannett Company. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
  5. ^ "Balbir Singh Sodhi". The Arizona Republic. September 22, 2001. p. 6. Retrieved April 1, 2023 – via
  6. ^ "Three killed as racist attacks increase in US". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  7. ^ Lewin, Tamar (September 17, 2001). "Sikh Owner Of Gas Station Is Fatally Shot In Rampage". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "'This is my country': how the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi resolved to carry on his American dream". the Guardian. 2021-09-14. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  9. ^ Gingold, Naomi (September 20, 2016). "The brother of one of the first hate-crime victims post 9/11 keeps on teaching tolerance". Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  10. ^ "A Sikh man's murder at a gas station revealed another tragedy of 9/11". Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  11. ^ Lewin, Tamar (September 17, 2001). "Sikh Owner Of Gas Station Is Fatally Shot In Rampage". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Hundal, Sunny (August 6, 2012). "Wisconsin temple shooting: Sikhs have been silent scapegoats since 9/11". The Guardian. London, England. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Three killed as racist attacks increase in US". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  14. ^ a b c Arora, Kiran S.K. (2013-04-01). "Reflections on the Experiences of Turbaned Sikh Men in the Aftermath of 9/11". Journal for Social Action in Counseling & Psychology. 5 (1): 116–121. doi:10.33043/JSACP.5.1.116-121. ISSN 2159-8142.
  15. ^ "Chapter 6: Fears and Concerns of Affected, At-Risk Communities". Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  16. ^ a b Borger, Julian (10 October 2003). "September 11 revenge killer to die for shooting Sikh". The Guardian. London, England. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  17. ^ Kiefer, Michael; Walsh, Jim (August 15, 2006). "9/11-tied slayer won't be executed". Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona: Gannett Company. Archived from the original on July 20, 2012. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  18. ^ "DNSI Blog: Arizona Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence for Frank Roque - Killer of Balbir Singh Sodhi". August 15, 2006. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  19. ^ Walsh, Jim (September 3, 2003). "Killer of Sikh after 9-11 called ill". Tucson Citizen. Tucson, Arizona: Gannett Company. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  20. ^ Villa, Judi; Klawonn, Adam (August 6, 2002). "Brother of slain Valley Sikh killed in San Francisco". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona: Gannett Company. Archived from the original on January 22, 2003. Retrieved June 8, 2005.
  21. ^ Dutt-Ballerstadt, Reshmi (2021-10-02). "The Terror of the Turban: Civilians, Suspects and Twenty Years Post 9/11". South Asian Review. 42 (4): 403–407. doi:10.1080/02759527.2021.1899509. ISSN 0275-9527. S2CID 236761685.

Further reading edit

External links edit