Sikh musician in Florida Neelamjit Dhillon investigated by police for carrying bamboo flutes

Quoted in article for The American Bazaar

In yet another incident of racial profiling involving a Sikh man in the United States, Neelamjit Dhillon, a Sikh musician was investigated because somebody reported him for being “suspicious”. Singh at the time was eating lunch at a Chili’s restaurant in Orlando, Florida.

“A concerned citizen called the police to investigate me while having lunch because of my suspicious container. Just my bamboo flutes 🙂 #musicianlife #eattingwhilesikh #thanksorlando,” Dhillon wrote on an Instagram post about the incident.

 

Dhillon — who moved to the Orlando area from Los Angeles to work on Disney’s Animal Kingdom show, “Jungle Book Alive,” as a performer and Indian music director — was having a late lunch at a local Chili’s restaurant with a friend, reported BuzzFeed.

While outside on a phone call, Dhillon says a smiling and apologetic police officer approached him.

“A police officer was walking towards me, put out his hand and shook my hand, and right away he said, ‘I need to have chat with you. Can we have a discreet conversation back at your table?’” Dhillon recalls.

Confused, Dhillon complied. Back at the table, the officer explained that someone unaffiliated with the restaurant had called police to report a suspicious man carrying a “suspicious container.”

As it turns out, the suspicious container was a carrying case for his bamboo flutes — one of the many instruments Dhillon plays professionally.

Dhillon, who carries his flutes in a case designed to hold blueprints, showed the flutes to the officer, who apologized for the trouble and left.

Dhillon said it wasn’t the first time a member of his community has been judged or profiled as a possible Muslim terrorist based on his experience as a Sikh.

“We always joke that we get randomly selected for security 100% of the time,” Dhillon told BuzzFeed News. “If someone just asked a question, and if someone didn’t come to conclusions based on appearances, they might just learn something about people.”

Various Orlando area police departments did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

“Sikh-Americans, we wear these articles of faith to represent justice, equality, and tolerance for all, and these are also American values. After the tragedy in Orlando, all I know is that more that bigotry and hate will never be the solution,” Dhillon said of his experience.

“Neelamjit’s story is a window into what things look like for Muslims and anyone who appears to be Muslim in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre,” said Simran Jeet Singh, a member of the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization, in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

Neelamjit was “fortunate that this encounter with profiling was not personally harmful or violent,” but “not every moment like this has such a happy ending,” Singh added.

On Sept. 15, 2001, just days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was shot and killed by Frank Roque, who mistook him for an Arab.

Last month in Texas, Daljeet Singh, an Indian-born Sikh man, and Mohammed Chotri, an immigrant from Pakistan, were pulled off a bus and arrested for “terroristic threat charges” after passenger on a bus called 911 on them.

The passenger thought they were “speaking in Arabic and discussing a bomb on the bus,” the Texas Tribune reported. The men were released after it was deemed there was no basis for the claim.

And Waris Ahluwalia, a model and actor living in New York, was prevented from boarding an AeroMexico flight because of his turban in February.

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