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Charlotte Observer: A Show Of Solidarity In The Right To Worship

CMPD Police Chief Rodney Monroe sits with the male worshippers as he prepares to speak at Sunday's Open House. To left of him is

CMPD Police Chief Rodney Monroe sits with the male worshippers as he prepares to speak at Sunday's Open House. To left of him is CMPD Lieutenant J.M. Wright and to right of him is Dr. Surendrapal Singh Mac.The Gurdwara Sahib Charlotte Sikh temple held an open house Sunday August 12, 2012, inviting the public to stop by to see who Sikhs are and what they believe in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Wisconsin. CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe stopped in to speak at the open house. Photo: DIEDRA LAIRD Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Rodney Monroe told Charlotte Sikhs on Sunday that, in the wake of a Wisconsin shooting that left six Sikhs dead, he wants to learn more about their community and increase police visibility near their temple. "Hate crimes are rapidly becoming a growing concern. But I believe in both my heart and mind that by working together, we can establish proactive measures," said Monroe on Sunday to the Sikhs gathered at the temple, nestled in the Great Oaks neighborhood on Stoney Creek Lane in University City. "We will continue to keep a vigilant watch over your temple as you come and go during your worship." Seven days earlier, a 40-year-old Army veteran fatally shot six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The shooter, who killed himself afterward, had ties to the white supremacist movement. "It was shocking but at the same time, it was eye-opening for us," said Rajdeep Singh. "It told us that we need to be more visible. We haven't really been involved in the community at large before. That needs to change." Monroe attended the service as part of the temple's open house. Although the Charlotte temple holds open houses every week during worship, Sunday's service carried particular weight. During the three-hour ceremony, followers chanted in the Gurmukhi language as a way to praise God. Followers took turns fanning a royal blue sheet covering the Sikh's holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. Since the book is the temple's "most respected thing," the fanning is meant to imitate how one would fan a great king, said Pawanjit Singh, director of United Sikhs USA, a group that aims to advocate for and empower minority populations. Learning Sikh traditions and beliefs The nearly 200 men and women who entered the temple on Sunday covered their heads with colorful turbans or scarves and took off their shoes out of respect for the sanctuary. Alissa Simpson was one of a handful of nonmembers who attended the open house to learn. Simpson said she was overwhelmed with how welcoming the Sikhs were. She recalled how she asked a woman in the bathroom for help finding a scarf to cover her head. Though the woman didn't speak English, she helped her, even taking the time to find a scarf that matched Simpson's green shirt, Simpson said. "Everybody has been so nice. They really seem to follow love and tolerance," she said. Sikhs are sometimes mistaken for Muslims because of their appearance, many followers said. Rajdeep Singh recalled one encounter he experienced shortly after 9/11 when he feared for his safety. While living in Columbia, Mo., he went to a movie with a couple of friends. While they parked the car, Rajdeep Singh stood in the ticket line. "Someone said 'Hey Osama,' and started moving toward me," he said. "My friends saw it happening and came by to pick me up and leave. That was pretty scary. I was shaken for a little while." Follower Jaspal Singh said he frequently gets long stares when he goes to the airport, and sometimes people publicly mock him. Soft attacks "A lot of us have faced soft attacks like that. But to actually have an assassination in our holy place - you really feel violated," said Singh. "We try to just do our own thing and stay private but this tragedy told us that we need to be more vocal. We need to raise awareness about who we are." Many Sikhs said that despite the horror of last week's shooting in Wisconsin, they've been grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. One person had even placed a bouquet of sunflowers in the temple's chain-link fence. Inderjeet Singh said he hopes his children will grow up in a more tolerant and loving world than past generations. "Most kids don't really see color," Singh said. "They're growing up in a society where everyone is equal. They've never seen people forced to sit in the back of the bus or a whites-only bathroom," he said. "Our children are going to see a different world." Copyright 2012 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.