The Orange County Register, March 14, 2016


SANTA ANA – Jasdeep Singh Mann’s youngest son felt the sting of misunderstanding and fear in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

The 8-year-old’s schoolmates stopped talking to him and called him a terrible name. When Mann asked what, his son replied, “You know, the guy from 9/11.”

The Yorba Linda family is of the Sikh faith, whose male members often are mistaken for Muslims because they wear turbans.

“That hurts,” Mann said of his son’s anguish.

Mann shared his family’s story Monday during the first community meeting of the newly created Orange County Sheriff’s Interfaith Advisory Council at the Sikh Center of Orange County. About 30 religious leaders attended, along with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and representatives from the Santa Ana Police Department, the Human Relations Commission, the county Mental Health Agency and the Probation Department.

The group wants to develop relationships that can serve as a resource on an everyday basis and in times of crisis, such as in the days following the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December when Muslims and Sikhs here saw a rise in threats and harassment.

“We felt it was time to get word of what we’re working on out to the community,” Hutchens said at the start of a more than two-hour discussion that included a presentation on the Sikh religion and the concerns of local members of that faith.

A hate crime reported in the days following the terror attack occurred at the Sikh temple in Buena Park, where a vandal spray-painted graffiti on the walls and a vulgarity about the terrorist group ISIS on a parked commercial truck. A 21-year-old later apologized in person to the congregation and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor vandalism charges in February.

For the most part, the Sikh community in Orange County enjoys a good relationship with local law enforcement, but there is much misunderstanding in the wider community, said Mann, 43, who is part of the advisory council’s executive committee.

The turbans, or dastaars, that Sikh men wear make them targets of misplaced anger whenever something happens that stirs up fear and hate, Mann said.

The advisory council was started, said the Rev. Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, so “we can learn from one another, whether we wear a sheriff’s uniform or the clergy’s collar.”

Not speaking out against racism, said Whitlock, who is African American, “makes us all complicit in pushing a racist agenda.”

Whitlock and Human Relations Director Rusty Kennedy approached the sheriff about race relations and an interfaith dialogue prior to the San Bernardino attack. Hutchens wanted to convene an ongoing group.

“There’s going to be something that will happen,” she said, “so, better that we know each other as people.”

 Contact the writer: 714-796-7793;