By Dylan McGuinness and St. John-Barned-Smith | HOUSTON CHRONICLE | US |
One of the common refrains from those attending memorial services for fallen Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal: His importance to younger Sikhs growing up in Houston and America generally.
“I think he was a hero to the next generation,” Sartaj Singh Bal said moments before the services Wednesday morning for Dhaliwal, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who was killed Friday in an ambush after a routine traffic stop.
As thousands of people filed into the Berry Center in Cypress to pay their respects to Dhaliwal, the Sikh community called on police agencies and the military to carry his legacy.
Dhaliwal was Harris County’s first Sikh deputy and garnered national attention for winning approval in 2015 to wear his turban and beard on duty. The religious accommodation policy was a tremendous feat of visibility and honor for Sikhs in Houston and across the nation.
Gurvinder Singh, a New York Police Department officer who traveled to the memorial service, said Dhaliwal’s actions inspired him to seek similar approval in New York.
“He was a motivation to a lot of guys here,” said Singh, president of the Sikh Officers’ Association. “Even though we lost an officer, you’re going to see a lot more Sikh officers out there, and serving our community.”
The memorial on Wednesday included a Sikh service, and then one held by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Army Capt. Simratpal Singh said at the Sikh ceremony that Dhaliwal would want them to “keep pushing.”
“Our lion may be gone physically, but his legacy of selfless service and of breaking down barriers will continue to live on,” Simratpal said.
MORE PHOTOS HERE
At the law enforcement service, about an hour and a half later, former Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who hired Dhaliwal, spoke directly to the slain deputy’s father.
“All he wanted to do was make you proud. And he did so, beautifully,” said Garcia, now a Harris County commissioner. “When you were watching, when you couldn’t see him. He was carrying your heart, your values, your name, your respect, into this incredible community.”
Current Sheriff Ed Gonzalez added, “Sandeep has brought this entire community together, in a very powerful way, in a way only Sandeep could do.”
Others who spoke at Dhaliwal’s memorial also emphasized the deputy’s commitment to service.
“Service to other human beings was center to his life,” said Hardam Singh Azad, the chairman of the Gurdwara Sikh National Center.
Amy Lasko, a community member and friend of Dhaliwal’s, urged unity and friendship that the deputy exemplified.
“He would not want us to give in to the darkness,” she said.
Singh, the army captain, said the thousands there to mourn Dhaliwal’s loss were drawn by his “warm embrace, his contagious smile, and his unrelenting and unwavering high spirits.”
“He was humble, fearless, not dissuaded by negativity,” Singh said. “He truly saw the human race as one, he spoke the language of love.”
Azad grew emotional at times in saying Dhaliwal’s legacy would be etched in hearts and minds forever.
On Friday, in the hours after Dhaliwal’s death, Azad said the deputy embodied the Sikh values of service.
It’s one thing to wear the turban and beard, he said. It’s another to live through and through as a Sikh. Dhaliwal did that, be said.
“Even in his death, he has brought a tremendous sense of pride among Sikhs, Americans, and people worldwide,” Azad said.
Sen. Ted Cruz said Dhaliwal was emblematic of the best Houston has to offer.
“He leaves behind an unmistakable and beautiful legacy of a life marked with service and devotion to others,” Cruz said.
In the wake of Dhaliwal’s death and at a candelight vigil Monday in his memory, friends and those who knew him remembered him as a strong-willed leader, a devoted Sikh and an eternal optimist.
Dhaliwal’s alleged killer, Robert Solis, is in jail on a capital murder charge and will likely face a death sentence if convicted.
Solis had a violent past and active arrest warrants when Dhaliwal pulled him over Friday for running a stop sign. After what appeared to be a casual conversation, authorities said Solis ran up and shot him from behind.
Sikhs globally lost a ‘hero’ in Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal (Asia Samachar, 1 Oct 2018)
Air Marshal Harjit takes over command as India’s SWAC (Asia Samachar, 3 Oct 2018)