When Jageet Singh was pulled over in January for a flat tire, officers with the Mississippi Department of Transportation referred to him as a "terrorist" and harassed him for his religion. A baptized Sikh, Singh wears a turban and carries a kirpan as symbols of his faith. When the officers saw Singh's kirpan, which resembles a small dagger, they ordered him to remove it. Upon explaining that wearing the kirpan was not optional, but rather mandated by his faith, the officers referred to him, and to Sikhism, as "depraved." Singh was arrested for refusing to follow the officer's demand.
The racism Singh faced does not end there.
When Singh returned to Mississippi for his court date, Judge Aubrey Rimes ordered four Highway Patrol Officers to remove him from the courtroom. Rimes cited Singh's turban as the reason behind expelling him, saying he wouldn't hear Singh's case unless he removed "that rag" from his head. Forcing Singh to remove his turban would violate his faith and infringe upon his freedom of religion. For refusing to remove his turban, Rimes moved Singh to the end of the docket and refused to hear his case until every other litigant of the day had been heard.
Of course, while his treatment is obscene, it is not surprising. Just this week, Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh man who is a medical doctor and assistant professor at Columbia University, was attacked. Like the officers who harassed Jageet Singh, the men who attacked Prabhjot Singh threw slurs such as "terrorist" and "Osama" at him.
At the root of these attacks are the racist assumptions that all brown people are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists. In her "Appeal to Americans," Shiwani Neupane smartly puts the hate crime committed against Prabhjot Singh in conversation with the crowning of Nina Duvuluri as Miss America. Neupane notes that like Prabhjot Singh, Duvuluri was immediately assumed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda and labeled a "terrorist." In case there were any doubts, she is neither.
While Prabhjot Singh and Nina Duvuluri's experiences prove that the racist homogenization of brown people into the single category of "Muslim terrorist" is widespread, Jageet Singh's experience is perhaps most telling of the state of racism in the United States. Prabhjot Singh and Duvuluri faced racism espoused by individuals. Jageet Singh faced racism within the very institutions that were purportedly designed to protect him. When State Officers and Judges spout off racist bigotry, there can be little hope for any semblance of justice to be delivered. We must hold our public officials to higher standards. Racism has no place in a system meant to serve justice.