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USA Mesa Man Pushes To Keep Brother's Name On Sept 11 Memorial


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The brother of a post-9/11 hate-crime victim feels victimized again nearly a decade later by Arizona legislation that would wipe Balbir Singh Sodhi's name off the state's memorial to the national tragedy.

Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Mesa gas-station owner, was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001, by a man who told police that he was lashing out at "Arabs" after watching the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapse over and over again on television.

Singh Sodhi was a Sikh from India, but his attacker mistook his religious turban for an Arab head covering.

"It seems like they are making a hate crime again. They are attacking me directly again," said Rana Singh Sodhi, a Mesa restaurant owner who since his brother's slaying has devoted his life to fighting racial and religious intolerance.

"What are they trying to do, zero us out, zero out the impact? I can't sleep. It's hurting me."

Members of the Valley's Sikh community and the chief prosecutor who put Singh Sodhi's killer in prison said they thought the legislation was a poorly-thought-out attempt to rewrite history and they are urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto it.

The bill, which passed both houses on party-line votes, was sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who said Monday that he did only a cursory Internet search on Singh Sodhi's murder. Kavanagh said it was unclear to him that the shooting was directly related to 9/11.

However, Frank Roque, who was convicted of murdering Singh Sodhi, told Mesa police during a tape-recorded interrogation that he was consumed with hatred toward "Arabs" after 9/11. He admitted shooting Singh Sodhi and firing on two other targets that day: a gas station with Middle Eastern owners and a house Roque sold to people of Arab ancestry.

Roque's attorneys admitted he murdered Singh Sodhi, but they pleaded for Roque's life by arguing that he was mentally ill. A jury sentenced Roque to death in October 2003, but the Arizona Supreme Court commuted his sentence in August 2006 to life without parole after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill.

After leaving his home in Punjab, India, Singh Sodhi eventually settled in the East Valley and bought a gas station in Mesa. He wore a turban in observance of his Sikh religion, which requires men to cover their hair.

Kavanagh said he believes the memorial should be limited only to the events of 9/11, not the aftermath.

"He was the victim of a madman. He was not a 9/11 victim," Kavanagh said. "I don't mean to (dismiss) what happened to this individual. I don't mean to trivialize it."

Kavanagh said he would be willing to have a separate plaque commemorate Singh Sodhi's murder, so long as it wasn't attached to the 9/11 Memorial. He said his bill primarily was aimed at other statements on the memorial that he considers political. The panels were approved by the Legislature at the time after being submitted by a public committee.

"Collectively, it looks like America bashing," he said, citing one panel that reads, "You don't win battles of terrorism with more battles."

Kavanagh disagrees with arguments by Sikhs that as many as 17 members of their religion were murdered nationally in the aftermath of Sept. 11. A Sikh truck driver was wounded in a shooting in north Phoenix in 2003 by men who shouted a racial slur as well as other, less-violent hate crimes that occurred in Valley.

Rana Singh Sodhi wasn't swayed by Kavanagh's arguments but offered to meet with him.

"He's a responsible leader, and he doesn't know what happened in his own state?" Rana Singh Sodhi said. "What kind of leader is he?"

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, whose office prosecuted Roque, said he is appalled by Kavanagh's failure to research the case. Romley said he would urge Brewer to veto the bill. "He's dancing, he's trying to get away, its bad legislation. He didn't do his homework," Romley said.

Romley, also is a Republican, said Kavanagh's argument that the 9/11 Memorial should not reflect the tragedy's aftermath is insulting to Romley's son and other servicemen and women who fought or sacrificed their lives in the war in Afghanistan.

Valley Sikh guru Roop Kaur Khalsa said the goodwill from the community after the attack was a "very loving response" and it hurts that the message has been forgotten by some.

"It's a monument," she said. "It's a warning, a beacon of what happened in the past" to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarep...-sept-11-memorial-fight.html#ixzz1KfvActK4Mes