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20 Years Ago: Remembering Sikh Temple Vandalism After 9/11

WEST SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - The impact of 9/11 was felt across every cross-section of America, including in the Muslim and Sikh communities, which faced backlash following the attacks.

Days before the Sikh Temple of Sacramento was attacked in 2001, West Sacramento police came to warn them of potential danger.

"Police informed us be fearful something might happen," explained Balbir Singh Dhillon, President of the Sikh Temple of Sacramento.

The temple in West Sacramento was targeted by a man who had visited the temple on multiple occasions before he came back to vandalize it.

"He asked questions, who we are, why that flag was there and why the American flag wasn't there," explained member and public relations officer for the temple, Darshan Mundy. "One day he came with a pickup and said I'm going to bulldoze the flag and the building," Mundy said.

The man instead jumped the fence and defiled their pool that held holy water from India and Pakistan. The place will the pool was once located, is now filled with grass.

Dhillon remembers sitting next to the man responsible who was facing hate crime charges. The temple instead spoke on his behalf

"We are all human beings and we shouldn't hate each other," he recalled saying to the man. "The way he was apologizing, I could tell he was apologizing from the bottom of his heart," he said.

Two decades later, Mundy believes it's their work with the interfaith council in Sacramento and the community that helped bridge the gap from unknown to understanding.

"At that time people didn't like us; we wore the turban, we were looking like other people, but now the people know who we are," Mundy explained.

The temple was not the only target in the days and years after the terrorist attacks. Hate crimes and vandalism against Muslim and Sikh communities skyrocketed.

"After 9/11, the Muslim and the Sikh community fell under siege. It was almost like it was OK to be a racist," explained Basim Elkarra, Executive Director at Council on American Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV/CC).

CAIR, a California a civil rights organization, has witnessed the impacts of crime on the community even affecting the younger generation.

"Some folks tried to hide their identity, they changed their names, tried to look different, just so they wouldn't get bullied," said Elkarra.

Elkarra explained that while hate crimes have decreased over the years, there are still concerns in the community.

"You always have this apprehensiveness, could it happen again. When is it going to happen? Every time you go to a house of worship, could there be an attack?" Elkarra explained. "Everyone in general remains hopeful prays for a better future for everyone. We realize we are all in the same boat and we have to engage, even for folks that might hate us," he said.

For Dhillon, while some painful memories have faded, he hopes the temple's mission is fresh in peoples' minds.

"Love all, all human race is one, that is what our holy book says," he said.

The charges against that suspect were eventually dropped. Instead of punishing him, the temple wanted to educate him about their culture and faith.

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