Houston, TX (February 5, 2009) – A Sikh family that was harassed by police officers at their Houston home over Thanksgiving weekend is still awaiting a decision about the case from Harris County’s new sheriff.
In the meantime, in response to a letter from the Sikh Coalition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has unilaterally opened a compliance investigation of the Sheriff’s Department. The DoJ is looking into an alleged pattern of discriminatory behavior by Harris County police officers.
Under Attack in Their Own Home
At the beginning of the Thanksgiving weekend last year, the Tagore family came home to find their house burgled. When Harris County police officers were called in to investigate the crime, they instead handcuffed and held family members in patrol cars, ostensibly because of a kirpan worn by one of the women. Officers asked the family members whether they had “heard about the bombings in Bombay” and then told the family that they “knew about Muslims.”
In the aftermath of the harassment, the Tagore family asked the Sikh Coalition to assist them with getting justice. They wanted to ensure that no other Sikh family would have to put up with this sort of behavior from the very agents who were meant to protect them. “Our family is still feeling the impact of what happened to us that day,” said Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore. “With the help of the Sikh Coalition, we hope to change the way the Harris County Sheriff’s Office treats its citizens.”
"Our family is still feeling the impact of what happened to us that day. With the help of the Sikh Coalition, we hope to change the way the Harris County Sheriff's Office treats its citizens."
Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore
Since the incident last year, the Sikh Coalition has been actively working with the Tagore family to ensure that justice is done.
1. Internal Investigation:
Shortly after the incident, the Coalition sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Department to demand that Internal Affairs conduct an investigation and discipline the offending police officers accordingly. The Sheriff’s Department has begun its investigation and two family members have submitted written statements to aid the inquiry. We understand that a response from the Sheriff’s Department may be forthcoming this month.
2. DoJ Complaint:
The Coalition reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Justice. In January, the DoJ announced that it is opening a civil rights compliance review of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The purpose of the review is to ensure that Harris County’s police officers are complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law that applies to beneficiaries of federal funds. The investigation was opened because the DoJ has received a pattern of discrimination complaints involving the Harris County police force.
3. Publicizing the Incident:
In December, the Coalition launched an online petition and a media campaign to publicize the incident and pressure local government officials to respond. The petition garnered over 2,500 signatures from Sikhs around the country. In addition, the incident was covered by hard copy and online publications including the Houston Chronicle.
4. Meetings with Government Officials:
In response to the widespread response to the incident, a number of meetings were set up between members of the Tagore family and local government officials. On December 14, 2008, then Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia visited the Sikh Center of Houston to discuss the incident with local Sikhs. The Sikh Coalition worked with over a dozen sevadars to prepare them in advance of this meeting.
The following week, the Tagore family and members of the local sangat met with Judge Ed Emmett, who oversees the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Judge Emmett recently wrote to the Tagore family to say “I am disappointed that there has been no official action with regard to the unfortunate incident at your home.” The Judge pledged his commitment to a thorough and quick resolution to the matter.
In addition, staff at the local DoJ Community Relations Service office has been engaged to assist in training Harris County’s police officers about Sikhs and Sikh practices. The Coalition has also reached out to the office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, who supports the Tagore family in their pursuit of this case.
The Sikh Coalition pledges to continue working with the Tagore family until they receive justice for the treatment they suffered.
The Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly. If someone tells you to remove your articles of faith, please report the incident.