March 5, 2016 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON: On March 3, a man broke into a Gurudwara in Washington State’s Sikh Temple of Spokane, and using ceremonial swords within the precints of the Gurudwara, inflicted over $30,000 in damage to the building and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji reflects the teachings of the ten Sikh Gurus and is considered the Eternal living embodiment of the Gurus. “Our hearts are broken,” Subarna Nagra, a member of the Gurudwara, said to The Spokesman-Review. But “these are not just Sikh values,” Subarna told the local media. “They are American values.”
According to the The Spokesman-Review, the perpetrator, 44-year-old Jeffrey C. Pittman, was initially detained by the Gurudwara’s priest – Gurjeet Singh – and another member when they arrived for morning prayer.
Pittman, who was reported to be naked during the incident, broke in through a side door of the building, a former church, and was wrapped in a blanket. Using the cerermonial swords, he desecrated Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the altar upon which the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is placed. He also used a fire extinguisher to further damage the property. According to local NBC affiliate KHQ, Pittman claimed to break into the Gurudwara because he cold and hungry and, upon entering, believed the altar to be a site of terrorist activity.
“What started as a random act of burglary turned into a hate crime,” Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told KHQ.
Once Pittman was detained, Gurjeet Singh and other congregants offered Pittman tea while awaiting local police. “We want him to know that we forgive him,” Gurjeet Singh said, reflecting Sikhism’s tenet of tolerance even in the face of violence and hatred. This is the second hate crime directed toward the Gurudwara: In 2003, a 14-year-old boy broke in to the building and spray painted a swastika and racially-charged epithets on the walls.
“We are not the victims here,” said Subarna Nagra to United Sikhs. “We need to see this as an opportunity to educate our community about who we are. And we are blessed to be surrounded by such great support of the community.”
Spokane Mayor David Condon and local religious leaders gathered in support of Sikh Temple of Spokane condemning religious intolerance. “We will not stand for this in any of our houses of worships,” said Mayor Condon.
One young United Sikhs supporter from Spokane, Raman Kaur Nagra, expressed the following in a Facebook post:
“It was terrifying to see our Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji torn and a room that was built with such hard work and dedication completely destroyed and disrespected. However, it was beautiful to see how our small community dealt with this issue. Even after this whole ordeal and the culprit was handcuffed, the Sikh community offered the man Lungar and warm tea. When it was easier to hate, we chose love. What hurts the most is not the materialistic things as those could be replaced, it’s the fact that someone would hurt our living Guru and strip us of our safety. Today I ask not for anyone’s sympathy, but I ask that everyone educate one another. Where hate is so common, let’s show that love is stronger. I am proud to be a Sikh where love, forgiveness, and equality comes first.”
The Gurudwara released this statement:
“We don’t know the motivations behind the vandalism yet, but we do know that police are treating the case seriously and that the perpetrator has been arrested. There are no immediate indications that bias was involved.
No house of worship in America should ever be vandalized. The Sikh articles of faith, which include the turban and beard, show our commitment to equality, justice and freedom for all. These are not just Sikh values, they are American values.
We would love take this opportunity to invite local Spokane community members to come to an open house at our Gurdwara. We are your classmates, colleagues, neighbors and we would love to turn this negative act of vandalism into a positive opportunity for the community to learn more about each other. That approach to life is embedded in the Sikh ethos.”
“All religions should be respected. Any crime committed due to someone’s religious beliefs will be a priority and fully investigated,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said in a press release Thursday.
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