September 2019 Hero of the Month – Sandeep Dhaliwal
As I have commented many times, while we need to address problems related to policing minority communities, increasingly the victims of senseless killings are wonderful people recruited from minority communities to serve in law enforcement. (See my Hero of the Month of July 2017, NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia)
This month, I am honoring another hero in the law enforcement community who answered the call and died in the line of duty: Houston Deputy Sheriff Sandeep Dhaliwal.
Sandeep, 42 and the father of three young children, was assassinated in a routine traffic stop by a paroled felon with a long rap sheet.
Sandeep was a devoted member of the Sikh community in Houston.
The following is a moving article from The Texas Tribune regarding his life and the outpouring of grief at his death:
THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
BY STACY FERNÁNDEZ OCT. 2, 2019
Sikh Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal remembered as “all that is good”.
A memorial service was held for Sandeep Dhaliwal, the first observant Sikh deputy in Harris County, who was killed in a routine traffic stop Friday.
CYPRESS — In 2009, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office started recruiting members of the Sikh community after a Sikh family whose home was burglarized said they were harassed by deputies.
Sandeep Dhaliwal, an observant Sikh, left a lucrative trucking business to join the sheriff’s office as a deputy. He was the first Sikh deputy in Harris County. For a decade, Dhaliwal was a unifying figure in the Houston area, according to friends, colleagues and public officials who remembered him in a memorial service Wednesday attended by thousands.
“He was and continues to be all that is good, and all that is just,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, before declaring Sept. 27, the day of Dhaliwal’s death, “Sheriff Deputy Dhaliwal Day.” The crowd stood and cheered at his declaration.
Dhaliwal was shot and killed Friday afternoon during a routine traffic stop in a Houston suburb. The alleged gunman, Robert Solis, shot Dhaliwal twice in the back of the head as the deputy walked back to his squad car, authorities said.
The deputy was taken to the hospital but was pronounced dead a few hours later. Dhaliwal, 42, was a married father of three young children.
Dhaliwal made national news in 2015 when the sheriff’s office changed its policy to allow Dhaliwal to grow out his facial hair and wear a traditional Sikh turban while on patrol.
Among those who attended the traditional Sikh funeral on Wednesday were Sikh law enforcement officials from across the United States and from the United Kingdom and Canada. The service, which included a live music performance and prayer, was followed by a law enforcement ceremony.
There’s still fear of Sikh people, of the unknown, said retired Staff Sgt. Jack Hundial, who traveled from Canada to honor Dhaliwal. But exposure to people like Dhaliwal shows who Sikh people are and what the religion really means, he added.
“He’s someone who made sacrifices to go into community service,” said Houston resident Rupinder Singh. “Very few people take that kind of initiative.”
Among the speakers were religious leaders, colleagues and elected officials including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Teal, royal blue, navy and shades in between filled the Berry Center of Northwest Houston, which can hold about 7,200 people and was almost to capacity for Dhaliwal’s service. The community chose to wear blue as a way to honor Dhaliwal and show respect for other members of law enforcement.
The service was “fit for a king,” said Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a former Harris County sheriff who recruited Dhaliwal . Outside, some businesses flew the United States and Texas flag at half-staff.
Those who knew him Dhaliwal remembered his warmth. They described his smile as “contagious” and from kids to adults, Dhaliwal “never met a stranger,” said Sgt. Adam Lightfoot, who worked with him for six and a half years.
An image of Dhaliwal hugging a young boy went viral after his death. Lightfoot said Dhaliwal never turned down a hug, a handshake or a chance to connect.
He remembers responding to Dhaliwal’s call for back up early in his career. Lightfoot saw his friend had pulled over about six cars at once, alone. Dhaliwal explained to the sergeant that is was so he could give the citations as efficiently as possible.
Lightfoot laughed, “He never lost that excitement.”
Army Captain Simratpal Singh, said, “on behalf of Sikh uniformed personnel and those who served previously” that their uniforms were “dyed slightly more red, white and blue with his sacrifice.”
A religious leader said Dhaliwal joins a history of Sikhs who developed a “deep legacy” of defending religious liberty for all religions. He described this as one of the values of the faith that Dhaliwal deeply embodied.
Singh is proud of Dhaliwal’s legacy of love and service, which “will continue to live on,” but his dream is that other Sikhs, “should they choose to don the uniform of his nation, that person should not have to fight to wear a turban and beard.”
Footnote: There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the United States and many were targeted by ant-islam threats after 9/11 by people who had no appreciation for the Sikh religion and equated their turbans and beards as evidence of Islamic extremism. As our friends will gladly explain to any who care, their faith is quite different than conventional Islam as practiced today. In fact, the Sikh faith was founded more than 500 years ago in the Indian region of Punjab and has roughly 27 million followers around the world. The core values of their faith include religious tolerance (that no faith has a monopoly on wisdom or righteousness), the equality of all humankind, selfless service and justice for all. In fact, the Sikh community has stayed true to these ideals despite enduring generations of persecution in the Indian subcontinent.
If we are to improve the quality of law enforcement, a goal which all Americans should share, we need more people like Miosotis Familia and Sandeep Dhaliwal to join our police departments. Accordingly, when we lose two fine officers like them, it is a grievous loss that all should feel. The time has come to stop talking about defunding the police and instead to recruit even more outstanding people to serve like Miosotis and Sandeep. Julie and I feel a deep sadness for their families and their cities who depended on their good work to keep people safe.