A community shaken by a recent shooting of a Sikh man came together at a downtown Kent church on Saturday in a show of solidarity against hatred and violence.
City, regional and state leaders from law enforcement, the Legislature, school, civic and faith circles joined area Sikh faithful at a packed Kent Lutheran Church to denounce the hate crime and encourage more understanding and unity among ethnic groups and their neighborhoods.
The two-hour community rally included song, prayer and guest speakers, each expressing their support for the Kent community in wake of the shooting.
“Each of us has a job to do to help make this a home where people feel that they want to be, where they feel safe, where they feel connected, where they have hope and a future,” Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke challenged the crowd. “Not one incident will change the course for us. … The motto for Kent is bringing the world home.”
Kent, a growing and diverse city, has received unwanted national attention after a 39-year-old Sikh man was shot in the arm in front of his East Hill home on March 3.
The victim, Deep Rai, told Kent Police he was working on his vehicle in the driveway at about 8 p.m. when a stranger approached him, saying, “Go back to your own country.” There was a physical altercation that led to the suspect shooting Rai in the arm before fleeing on foot, police said.
Rai, a U.S. citizen who is originally from India’s Punjab state, is recovering from the wound.
Authorities are investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
The suspect was last described as a white male, 6 feet tall, with a medium build, dark hoodie, dark clothing, and a mask covering the lower part of his face. The victim was only able to provide these details to describe his attacker, authorities said.
Kent Police Cheif Ken Thomas assured the crowd at Saturday’s rally that everything is being done to find the perpetrator. Neighboring law enforcement and federal agencies are bolstering efforts in the manhunt, Thomas said.
“We continue to work hard,” Thomas said. “I can’t tell you a lot about the investigation other than we continue to work hard. We continue to make progress. (Friday) last night, 35 FBI agents and detectives from throughout the region were re-canvassing the East Hill area.”
The shooting has galvanized the community. Saturday’s rally echoed those feelings.
“I don’t want an incident of violence to be the reason we share stories with one another. That isn’t the reason we want to get to know each other, the reason we want to share communities together,” said Jane Prestbye, lead pastor of Kent Lutheran Church. “(But) we need to love your neighbor, serve your neighbor, know your neighbor and listen to your neighbor.”
Other leaders chimed in.
“You are proof positive that you are no longer quiet … to let the world know this is not OK,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. “We are here, we love our neighbors and will continue to love our neighbors. … In times like this it is so heartwarming to see us working together.”
Added state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines: “We are at a place where you need to have faith over fear and love over hate. Hate is among us and we must treat it, in my opinion, as a public health menace. It is contagious. It must be contained. It has to be isolated.”
State Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, has raised a family here.
“I was devastated. How could that kind of violence and hatred happen in our community? How could it happen right here in Kent?” he told the gathering. “We have two choices. We can ignore it and go on with our business as if nothing happened, or we can stand together as a community against hatred and violence, and that is what we are doing here today. By you showing up, you are saying that hatred and violence does not belong in South King County.”
Sikh community leaders remain steadfast in working together with others in the community.
“We have to define what America is. You coming together puts that definition together,” said Jasmit Singh, a Seattle-area Sikh community leader. “We are not going to fear anyone. … and I do not look at anyone as the enemy.
“We have to be able to stand together, shoulder to shoulder … to know your neighbor and stand up against the violence.”
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the successful resolution of the assault case, with racially motivated actions. Anyone with information that can help identify the individual is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or the Kent Police tip line 253-856-5808.
Callers to Crime Stoppers may remain anonymous and are eligible to receive an additional cash reward of $1,000 if the information given leads to an arrest and charge of the person or persons involved.