A Sikh man in Mesa says his brother was murdered four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and says the Sikh community still faces racism 20 years later.

MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed outside of his Mesa gas station, simply because of the way he looked. It is reportedly the first revenge killing the wake of the terrorist attacks. 

"In our own home, in our own neighborhood, there is a lot of ignorance," said Balbir's brother Rana Singh Sodhi. 

Balbir's alleged killer said he wanted to go out and "shoot some towel-heads." Days before Balbir's attack, Rana says tensions were high. 

"People yelling at us, go back to your country and using the f-word. At that time we both realized, it is going to be a serious matter," said Rana. 

While Balbir was the first known victim of a hate crime post 9/11, he wouldn't be the last. Attacks against Muslim and Sikh communities skyrocketed during that time.

"Due to anti-Sikh bias, general xenophobia, white supremacy, as well as the false conflation of the Sikh articles of faith. And by that I mean turbans and untrimmed beards and images of the Taliban," said Aasees Kaur, Senior Legal Client Manager with the Sikh Coalition. 

Kaur said the backlash is still alive decades later. "This anti-Sikh hate, it still continues. The most recent data shows the Sikhs are among that top five of the most targeted religious groups."

While progress has been slow, Rana continues to lead with forgiveness. He finds healing in educating others about the Sikh religion, that he says embodies peace. He hopes his work saves others from hateful acts of violence. 

"People should understand and respect people. It is not belonging to one race, one gender, or one color. This is land of immigrants. People are forgetting that," said Rana. 

There is a virtual celebration of life for Balbir on Wednesday Sept. 15. at 7 p.m. Click here for more information

Copyright 2021 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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