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The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service has released a new film aimed at educating law enforcement and airport screeners about Sikhs in America. Highlights of the 17-minute training film “On Common Ground” include basic statements about their Indian subcontinental origin (“Sikhs are not from the Middle East.”) and instructions for respectful interaction (“Avoid forcibly cutting, pulling, or trimming a Sikh’s hair”; a turban is “not a hat or a cap.”). The film — which was shown to the public at the Sumner Museum in downtown Washington, last week — also includes a fictitious sequence in which a white woman encounters a Sikh tourist videotaping the Jefferson Memorial and reports him to the police. “Plain old ignorant behavior” is the root of post-9/11 hate incidents against Sikhs, says Sharee Freeman, the departing director of the Community Relations Service. Ignorance also appears to be a problem among cops, some of whom, according to Freeman, sat in stunned silence during a pre-screening of the film before telling her they were unaware that Sikhs were not Arabs. Collaborating with the DOJ on the $25,000 film was the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The film was dedicated to Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh immigrant killed in an apparent hate crime in Arizona four days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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