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USA Maryland Kirpan Arrest Raises Questions of Profiling

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Apr 16, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

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    By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau


    Harpreet Singh Khalsa, a newly converted Sikh, stopped at a Maryland 7-Eleven convenience late one night in January when a police officer noticed him.

    The officer followed him into to the store because he was wearing a dastaar and kurta pajama, and then later saw his Kirpan. He was arrested. Harpreet Singh Khalsa, a newly converted Sikh, stopped at a 7-Eleven late one night in January when a police officer noticed him.

    The officer followed him into to the store because he was wearing a dastaar and kurta pajama, and then later saw his Kirpan. He was arrested.

    In a letter to the state’s assistant district attorney, United Sikhs successfully advocated for his release last month but alleged that racially profiling lead to the arrest.

    "If you read the police report, it is clear that the only reason the officer was suspicious was because of how Harpreet Singh looked," said Hansdeep Singh, senior staff attorney with the New York-based international advocacy group. “It was racial profiling.”

    The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office did not return or request for comment.

    According to the police report, on Jan. 9, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Officer J. Ballard said he was checking a 7-Eleven store business in Owings Mills when he observed a “white male wearing a turban and what appeared to be a white dress and slippers, enter the business and purchase merchandise.”

    The officer saw that Smith was wearing a long black coat that was unzipped and “the handle of a knife sticking out from inside his open coat. The knife appeared to be hanging against his body in a black sling he wore over his shoulder,” according to the report.

    The officer said he then followed Smith out to his car, which was parked at a gas pump, and called for police back-up. When he approached Smith, he “determined that the concealed knife under his black coat was a 10.5-inch curved knife from base to tip hanging from a black-in-color shoulder sling” according to the report.

    “Also around his neck were a 4.5-inch curved knife and a gold-in-color micro flash drive worn as a necklace.”

    According to the police report, the officer then saw on the dash of Smith’s car were two curved swords, one 3-feet-4-inches and one 3-feet-10.75-inches, and two curved knives, 4.5-inches and 9.25-inches.

    Smith, 27, of Gwynn Oak, was arrested.

    At the police station, Smith stated that he was a Sikh and wears the Kirpan for religious purposes. The clothing was religious garb and the Kirpans in his car also were for religious purposes. They are used to “protect someone who may be being beaten in the street and no police is present to assist them,” he said in the police report.

    Smith also told the police that he was in the process of changing his name to Harpreet Singh Khalsa, his new Sikh name.

    Harpreet Singh could not be reached for comment.

    Under Maryland’s dangerous weapons law, “A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person.”

    All the Kirpans were seized, and Harpreet Singh was charged with concealing a dangerous weapon. The maximum penalty is three years in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    “…The circumstances surrounding Officer Ballard’s statement of probable cause gives the distinct impression that Mr. Singh was being profiled based on his religious dress (turban and white clothing) and was already “suspect” before Officer Ballard even viewed the handle of the Kirpan and subsequently arrested him,” Hansdeep Singh said in a March 1 letter to Jared Green, assistant state’s attorney.

    “Harpreet Singh is an Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh and wears, at all times, five articles of faith,” he said in the letter. “United Sikhs feels compelled to voice their concern on behalf of the Sikh community because the Kirpan has incorrectly been equated to a dangerous weapon instead of being recognized as an article of faith and an inextricable part of the Sikh identity.”

    “Kirpan cases across the country have led to the voluntary dismissal of charges by prosecutors,” he added, and cited other cases.

    Harpreet Singh’s case was dropped about a week later, Hansdeep Singh said.

    In a letter to the state’s assistant district attorney, United Sikhs accused the officer of racial profiling.

    If you read the police report, it is clear that the only reason the officer was suspicious was because of how Harpreet Singh looked, said Hansdeep Singh, senior staff attorney with the New York-based international advocacy group. “That’s racial profiling.”

    The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office did not return or request for comment.

    According to the police report, on Jan. 9, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Officer J. Ballard said he was checking a 7-11 store business in Owings Mills when he observed a “white male wearing a turban and what appeared to be a white dress and slippers, enter the business and purchase merchandise.”

    The officer saw that Smith was wearing a long black coat that was unzipped and “the handle of a knife sticking out from inside his open coat. The knife appeared to be hanging against his body in a black sling he wore over his shoulder,” according to the report.

    The officer said he then followed Smith out to his car, which was parked at a gas pump, and called for police back-up. When he approached Smith, he “determined that the concealed knife under his black coat was a 10.5-inch curved knife from base to tip hanging from a black-in-color shoulder sling” according to the report.

    “Also around his neck were a 4.5-inch curved knife and a gold-in-color micro flash drive worn as a necklace.”

    According to the police report, the officer then saw on the dash of Smith’s car were two curved swords, one 3-feet-4-inches and one 3-feet-10.75-inches, and two curved knives, 4.5-inches and 9.25-inches.

    Smith, 27, of Gwynn Oak, was arrested.

    At the police station, Smith stated that he was a Sikh and wears the Kirpan for religious purposes. The clothing was religious garb and the Kirpans in his car also were for religious purposes. They are used to “protect someone who may be being beaten in the street and no police is present to assist them,” he said in the police report.

    Smith also told the police that he was in the process of changing his name to Harpreet Singh Khalsa, his new Sikh name.

    Harpreet Singh could not be reached for comment.

    Under Maryland’s dangerous weapons law, “A person may not wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person.”

    All the Kirpans were seized, and Harpreet Singh was charged with concealing a dangerous weapon. The maximum penalty is three years in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    “…The circumstances surrounding Officer Ballard’s statement of probable cause gives the distinct impression that Mr. Singh was being profiled based on his religious dress (turban and white clothing) and was already “suspect” before Officer Ballard even viewed the handle of the Kirpan and subsequently arrested him,” Hansdeep Singh said in a March 1 letter to Jared Green, assistant state’s attorney.

    “Harpreet Singh is an Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh and wears, at all times, five articles of faith,” he said in the letter. “United Sikhs feels compelled to voice their concern on behalf of the Sikh community because the Kirpan has incorrectly been equated to a dangerous weapon instead of being recognized as an article of faith and an inextricable part of the Sikh identity.”

    “Kirpan cases across the country have led to the voluntary dismissal of charges by prosecutors,” he added, and cited other cases.

    Harpreet Singh’s case was dropped about a week later, Hansdeep Singh said.

    http://www.sikhnn.com/headlines/1363/maryland-kirpan-arrest-raises-questions-profiling
     
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