California woman charged with intimidating Sikhs in Oregon

By Steven Du Bois Associated Press Writer
Tuesday September 18, 2001

EUGENE, Ore. — A California woman was arrested after attempting to pull a turban off the head of a Sikh, police said. 

Shari Mitchell, 54, of San Rafael, reportedly approached two men Sunday at an Interstate 5 rest stop near Eugene. Believing them to be Islamic fundamentalists, she blamed them for terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

The arrest is the second in Oregon involving a backlash against Muslims and those who are mistaken for them. A 33-year-old man was arrested last week after making a threatening phone call to the Islamic Cultural Center in Eugene. 

Sikhism is a sect of Hinduism from India and is distinct from Islam, but some members are being mistaken for Muslims because they wear turbans and have facial hair. 

In the most prominent case, a Sikh in Arizona was killed Saturday, reportedly because he was dark-skinned and wore a turban. The FBI also announced Monday that they are investigating the shooting death Saturday of an Egyptian grocery store owner in San Gabriel as a hate crime. 

Reached on his cell phone Monday, Jagjit Gill, 41, of Kent, Wash., said he and his father-in-law Santokh Sing, 60, stopped at the rest area for a snack. 

When they saw Mitchell coming their way, they waved to her, Gill said. But Mitchell responded with curse words and racist remarks. 

An old man at the rest area attempted to intervene, telling Mitchell that the men had nothing to do with the attacks. 

She told the man “to shut up, these guys are murderers,” Gill said. 

She then slapped one of the men and attempted to remove Sing’s turban. 

“I told her ‘don’t touch the turban,’ ” Gill said. 

Mitchell eventually left. Police caught up to her on Interstate 5 and charged her with intimidation and harassment. She could get more than a year in jail. 

“Physically we’re fine, mentally we’re very upset,” Gill said. “We’re scared; it gets into your mind.”