A Sikh man arrested in Catonsville had all charges dropped and the arrest record expunged. One arresting officer apologized to the man.
The incident was captured in a video
shared to Facebook by Rachel Bereson Lachow. Lachow wrote, "Such a weird day. Left to grab a bite and saw this. In Catonsville it's illegal to be a Sikh and carry a ceremonial blade."
The man arrested has been identified as Harpreet Singh. Singh, a Baltimore local, is well known in the local spiritual and vegan community. Singh owns The Sacred Kitchen LLC
, a vegan Indian catering company that serves locally sourced, organic food.
On Monday, June 12, Singh was shopping at H-Mart, a local Asian grocery store, when someone apparently called police to report a man wielding a large blade. Harpreet said in a Facebook comment that the employees of the grocery "were so fascinated with [his] ceremonial dagger," but that a customer called the police. Five officers arrived on the scene.
When members of the community recognized Singh in Lachow's video, they tagged him. Singh then shared the video with the following caption:
"I was arrested for shopping while Sikh. The police put me in handcuffs and drove me down to the precinct for wearing what they call a deadly weapon. They ignored all sentiments towards my religion and treated me as a threat to society."
The comments section shows an outpouring of support for Singh, who has responded to many comments in kind. He said that all the charges were dropped and that one of the female arresting officers seen in the video apologized. Singh wrote, "I told her how she could improve the way that she approaches the Sikh community and she was very glad to hear my thoughts on that." Singh suggested that the incident was a result of misinformation and lack of understanding about Sikh religion and the significance of the ceremonial blade.
About the Kirpan
The blade, called a Kirpan, is one of five articles of faith that members of the Sikh faith must always carry. The five articles are often referred to as "The Five Ks
." The 5 Ks date from the creation of the Khalsa Panth
by Guru Gobind Singh
in 1699. The Guru Singh introduced the five articles for several reasons:
- Adopting these common symbols would identify members of the Khalsa
- Because all members of the Khalsa wear the 5 Ks the members of the community are more strongly bound together
- Each K has a particular significance
The five Ks are:
- Kesh (uncut hair)
- Kara (a steel bracelet)
- Kanga (a wooden comb)
- Kaccha - also spelt, Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear)
- Kirpan (steel sword)
[caption id="attachment_2241" align="aligncenter" width="468"]
The Kirpan is usually worn on the outside of the clothing[/caption]
Not his first arrest for possession of a Kirpan
Harpreet Singh is actually a white American born with the name Justin Smith. Smith converted to Sikhism a number of years ago and adopted his Sikh name, Harpreet Singh Khalsa. Monday's incident is not the first instance of Singh being arrested for carrying a Kirpan. A 2011 article details a similar incident
when a police officer followed Harpreet Singh, then identified as Justin Smith, into a local 7-11 store. The officer followed Singh/Smith to his vehicle. On the dashboard of his vehicle the officer found "two curved swords, one 3-feet-4-inches and one 3-feet-10.75-inches, and two curved knives, 4.5-inches and 9.25-inches."
All the Kirpans were seized. Singh was arrested and charged with concealing a dangerous weapon. The maximum penalty is three years in jail and a $1,000 fine. In a police report, Singh said he was a Sikh and that he carried the blade for religious purposes. He also told them he was in the process of changing his name from Justin Smith to Harpreet Singh Khalsa.
In the 2011 case, Singh's attorney wrote the following to the State's attorney:
"Harpreet Singh is an Amritdhari (initiated) Sikh and wears, at all times, five articles of faith,” he said in the letter. “United Sikhs feels compelled to voice their concern on behalf of the Sikh community because the Kirpan has incorrectly been equated to a dangerous weapon instead of being recognized as an article of faith and an inextricable part of the Sikh identity.”
The case against Singh was dropped. Harpreet Singh is not the only Sikh man arrested for carrying the Kirpan. Similar cases across the U.S. have resulted in voluntary dismissals by prosecutors.
What do you think about this case? Should a religious article be treated as a dangerous weapon? Let us know in the comments below.