After receiving a report of the sound of a firearm being discharged from an orange BMW, Hitchin police arrived at the home of Sukhi Rayat and his family to investigate. Rayat and his 17-year-old son were handcuffed, held at gunpoint, searched, and had their home raided. What police perceived and treated as a threat of illegal firearm possession turned out to be nothing at all. They surmised that the sound the caller described as that of a gunshot emitted from the tire puncture the vehicle had encountered. The trauma that the Rayat family encountered was for naught.
In a post-9/11 world, Sikhs have frequently faced these situations. Though the FBI only began tracking attacks targeting them in 2015, the evidence of misguided and racial bias against them is countless. Since the attacks in Manchester and Barcelona, it seems that the bias is inescapable and increasingly systematized.
Rayat stated that “People are on edge at the moment. I get that and I totally get what the police have done. But this just shows people have a real lack of understanding about who’s who.”
The family was deeply upset about the nature of the raid, particularly given that police officers ignored their requests to remove their shoes before entering their prayer room, where their religious texts and items were stored. Rayat also posits, “We made our feelings known about the disrespect with the shoes. I asked what sort of training they go through – that should be basic. You should understand people’s religious beliefs.”
In the days following the raid, Chief Inspector Julie Wheatley visited the family to apologize for the disrespect demonstrated unto their religion, and for the ordeal, but her narrative reflects a priority for her duty above all else.
Wheatley states that “...you can imagine, in the current climate – we’ve just had the awful events in Barcelona – if we get reports like this involving firearms, we’re duty-bound to act. And I think the public would be up in arms if we didn’t.” She continues, “We’ve got to manage the risk and the threat there could be to public safety, and that’s our main concern. I think I speak for all the public when I say we cannot take any risks.”
She denies that her officers were requested to remove their shoes prior to entering the prayer room, but the Rayat family collectively confirms that they did. She does not disqualify their claim, but still defends the actions of her team, arguing that a search of that manner must be conducted quickly. She states, “We at the police are always keen to learn. We’re trained about different cultural issues and religions, but it’s all different when you’re in a firearms quick-time operation.”
Disregarding general courtesy according to the gravity of an operation seems debatable, particularly when the gravity is ultimately null. The apology the police have issued does little to alter the reality of the situation so much as it does the narrative. Wheatley describes risk as something applicable to the citizens of Hitchin.
Are the Rayats not also put at risk when disrespected and unnecessarily searched?