Sikh community gathers in Mesa for vigil on 20th anniversary of Balbir Singh Sodhi's murder

On Sept. 15, the Sikh community in the Valley, joined by allies of different backgrounds, gathered to remember a man killed in a hate crime 20 years ago.

Balbir Singh Sodhi's murder outside a gas station in Mesa happened in the days following the terrorist attacks on September 11, and he was the first American killed in a wave of hate crimes against men wearing turbans.

According to reports by the Associated Press, airplane mechanic Frank Roque was convicted of first-degree murder in Sodhi's killing, and was sentenced to death before that was commuted to life imprisonment. Roque also was accused of drive-by shootings the same day at an Afghan family’s home and a Lebanese man’s convenience store, although no one was injured in those attacks.

On Sept. 15, 2021, Dozens filled a parking lot located near where Sodhi was killed. Two decades later, a memorial head stone has been erected in the area, in Sodhi's honor.

Sodhi was 52 at the time he was killed. Prior to Sodhi's shooting, Roque reportedly said a racial slur.

"I lost my brother because of ignorance. Lack of education," said Singh Sodhi's brother, Rana Sodhi. "He thought we are associated with terrorists, we are apart of Taliban, and he had zero knowledge about Sikh, of my religion."

A Mesa Police officer who was working at the event said he used to patrol the area during his beat more than 20 years ago, and remembers Sodhi. The officer, like so many, said Sodhi was a good man, and was always welcoming.

As for Rana, he is still fighting racism, having made the educating the youth and bringing communities together a mission. Rana says there is much work to be done, after society setbacks like the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic.

"That's the reason we need to come out," said Rana. "Our leadership, our people need to love, understand each other, and respect them."

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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