Slain Texas deputy devoted life to Sikh faith, serving others
Sandeep Dhaliwal carried a badge and a gun while devoting his life to a faith that teaches love and peace.
Dhaliwal, who was fatally shot from behind during a traffic stop Friday, was the first Sikh sheriff's deputy on a force that covers an area including the nation's fourth largest city of Houston. Four years ago he won an accommodation to wear his turban and a beard while patrolling.
Friends said Dhaliwal, 42, was an example of how love-inspired service to others can tear down walls of distrust and misunderstanding.
"He was just a gem of a person. He was a beautiful soul," Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the New York-based Sikh Coalition, said Saturday. "Everyone who knew him admired him greatly."
Robert Solis, who has an extensive criminal history, has been charged with capital murder in Dhaliwal's killing. Solis, 47, was denied bond at a hearing early Saturday.
Authorities haven't speculated as to Solis' motive or suggested that it was a hate crime. Solis was wanted on a warrant for violating parole, and authorities said Saturday that they had received "credible information" that he might have a mental illness or intellectual disability and ordered an evaluation.
The killing came at a time when the U.S. has seen a string a mass shootings, including several recent ones in the Texas cities of El Paso, Odessa and Midland, stoking the debate over the nation's gun laws.
The country also is riven over President Donald Trump's push for restrictions on immigration and efforts to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico.
Some friends of Dhaliwal said his life showed how the presence of multiple cultures and faiths can enrich the country.
"It's such a powerful message to send to the community that a man in a turban and beard is just as much American as you," said Simran Jeet Singh.
Even so, Dhaliwal's primary motivation was the ability to live his faith, said his friend Manpreet Kaur Singh, an attorney and Sikh Coalition board member who is not related to Simran Jeet Singh. Sikh men often take Singh as a last name, while women take the last name Kaur, rather than using surnames that would identify them by caste. Manpreet Kaur Singh has both her mother's and father's last names.
"When you wear your articles of faith, you're telling the world 'I stand up for injustice, for people and for the greater good,'" she said.
Sikhism, a monotheistic faith, was founded more than 500 years ago in the Indian region of Punjab and has roughly 27 million followers worldwide, most of them in India.
There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S. Male followers often cover their heads with turbans, which are considered sacred, and refrain from shaving their beards.
Some were targets of anti-Islam violence following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, even though Sikhism is unrelated to Islam.
About 7,000 to 10,000 live in the Gulf Coast Region of the U.S., according to the Houston Chronicle. More than a half-dozen Sikh temples can be found in the region.
Dhaliwal was a member of the Sikh National Center in Houston, said its chair, Hardam Azad.
Azad said Dhaliwal often would speak with young people at the center, showing his sheriff's badge. A widely-shared video of Dhaliwal posted on the Facebook page of the Harris County Sheriff's Office showed him laughing as he allowed a boy to handcuff him and then unlock the handcuffs with the key.