Local Sikhs say shooting of store clerk causes ripple effect through their community

Posted at 10:24 PM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 22:24:42-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A store clerk was robbed at rifle point and then shot in the cheek by a masked gunman on Saturday night at Bottlenecks in Grand Rapids. The 34-year-old clerk, Tony, survived. The owner of the store said the masked man accused Tony of being a terrorist and a member of Isis and said he used to kill people like Tony in Iraq with “no problem.”

The owners of Bottlenecks are calling this a hate crime but police have not termed the shooting a hate crime.

“I wish I could say this is the first time something like this has happened. It’s happened throughout the country multiple times, but it’s just so surreal that it happened so close to home in my city,” said Singh.

Friends of the victim say he was part of the Sikh community and added he wasn’t overly religious.

Sikhism is a religion founded in India and is the fifth largest faith in the U.S. It’s separate from Hinduism, and contrary to misconceptions it is separate from Islam. Others in the Sikh community say that what happened at Bottlenecks could have happened to any one of them.

Rishi Makkar, owner of Rishi’s International Beverage in Grand Rapids and a Sikh, was hit hard by the news of the recent shooting. “It’s unfortunate that this incident happened to a member that stands against everything that’s evil,” said Makkar.

Makkar said Sikhism stands for freedom, justice and equality, and nowhere do they practice violence.

“It's important for you to recognize them for who they are, not what you think they look like,” said Makkar. “We just ask if you see someone with a turban and a beard, please identify him as a Sikh and not as members of another practicing faith."

Makkar said that the Sikh population in Grand Rapids has grown from 25 families to more than 100 because Grand Rapids is an accepting community. He loves to raise his family here and have his business here.

He added that the crime committed on Saturday is not reflective of that spirit.

“I think that signifies a hate crime,” said Makkar, who said the suspect went beyond robbery. "His full intention was to kill [Tony]."

He and Singh said they are now more vigilant than ever. “Definitely have to look over my back a lot more when the doorbell rings," said Singh. "I’m looking to see who it is. Last week that wasn’t the deal. It felt safe where families could come in, but this has opened my eyes."

But Singh and Makkar made it clear they are cautious, but not afraid.

“The one thing that our religion does not believe in is fear, not to give into oppression or fear at any point,” said Makkar.

The investigation is still ongoing, and the shooter is still on the loose. FOX 17 News was told that the victim is still recovering.

If you have any information about the shooting contact the Grand Rapids Police Department.