Livingston Police reach out to Sikh community

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

North Valley Police are reaching out to members of the Sikh community. Many say they're often misunderstood -- or even called terrorists -- because of their dress and appearance.

This temple is a sacred place for hundreds of Sikhs who live in Livingston. It's one of two Gurdwara's in the city, which has one of the largest Sikh populations in the state. But Mohani Thiara says the religion and those who practice it are still often misunderstood.

Thiara said, "After September 11th attack it was a lot of mistaken identity. Me and my family would go on the road, people say terrorists, go back home. We're saying we're not terrorists, we're Sikhs."

That's why the new chief of the Livingston Police Department asked Thiara to help arrange this training session to teach officers and dispatchers more about the Sikh religion and culture.

Chief Doug Dunford said, "We have to understand their whole culture and we can't do that unless they teach us."

During the class, volunteers explained that Sikhism originated in the Punjab region of South Asia and that Baptized Sikhs are required to wear five articles of faith & including turbans and religious swords called kirpans. Those items have caused conflicts in other cities when officers have demanded Sikhs remove them without realizing their significance.

Japneet Kaur said, "It's a big deal because we want to make sure that not only does law enforcement have a clear idea of how to handle things that are sacred to us but also so we know how to work with them."

Those who attended the class say it offered valuable insight.

Maribel Arevalo said, "Things like this help us understand their religion even better and them even better as people."

Chief Dunford says he's hoping to bring in more Sikh volunteers in the future to help with translating and other efforts to continue breaking down barriers.

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