Houston bids farewell to trailblazer Indian-American cop

Harris County Sheriff's Office Facebook photo 

Law enforcement officers, family, friends and members of the Sikh American community gathered at the Berry Center of Northwest Houston, Oct. 2, to bid farewell to Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal of the Harris County Sheriff Department. The 42-year-old father of three, and a 10-year veteran, was shot on Sept. 27 at a traffic stop in the town of Cypress.

The Berry Center, which is said to hold over 8,000 people, was almost packed-to capacity. Community members chose to wear blue as a way to honor Dhaliwal and show respect for other members of law enforcement.

The daylong ceremony included a procession, two funeral services and a law enforcement memorial with a 21-gun salute from fellow officers and a helicopter flyover. Several people lined up the procession route. Blue and white signs praising Dhaliwal could also be seen on the route. The services were carried live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The service was “fit for a king,” Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a former Harris County sheriff who recruited Dhaliwal, was quoted as saying in news reports.

Among those who attended the funeral were New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Grewal, the nation's first Sikh state's attorney general said Dhaliwal "inspired an entire generation of Sikhs to public service."

Addressing Dhaliwal's wife, Harwinder Kaur Dhaliwal, and the three children, Cruz assured them of the community’s support. The community “supports you and lifts you up,” he said, adding, "We are grateful for your father's service and his sacrifice and his legacy.

Houston bids farewell to trailblazer Indian-American cop

Harris County Sheriff's Office Facebook photo 

Similar sentiments were expressed by everyone who spoke at the funeral. Those who knew Dhaliwal or had worked with him, described him a warm-hearted person and pledged to continue his legacy of hard work and breaking barriers.

Sgt. Adam Lightfoot, who worked with Dhaliwal for six and a half years, said Dhaliwal’s smile “was contagious.”

Simratpal Singh, a U.S. Army captain, who attended the services along with other members of the Sikh community in military service, described Dhaliwal as "humble, fearless, and not dissuaded by negativity."

Several prayer and candlelight vigils were held for Dhaliwal across the country. Similarly, several local businesses also conducted fundraisers to help the fallen officer’s family.

Houston bids farewell to trailblazer Indian-American cop

Harris County Sheriff's Office Facebook photo 

Papa John's Pizza offered to donate profits from its 78 greater Houston-area locations to the deputy's family. The fundraiser that kicked off on Oct. 1 was extended till Oct. 5 due to the overwhelming response. The local Popeyes restaurant also donated all of its proceeds on Oct. 2 to the Dhaliwal family.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, in announcing Dhaliwal’s death on Sept. 27 called him a trailblazer who paved the way for many Sikh Americans to join the police force. He said Dhaliwal “wore the turban, he represented his community with integrity, respect and pride and he was respected by all.”

A few hours after Gonzalez’s press conference, a tweet from his office said that Robert Solis, 47, was charged with capital murder. A weapon was recovered that deputies believe was used to kill Dhaliwal. Solis was charged with capital murder. News reports say he was arrested at a nearby grocery parking lot after a tip by a witness.

Adrian Garcia, Harris County police commissioner told CNN that Dhaliwal “had a heart of gold, he treated his brothers and sisters in law enforcement as if they were just brothers and sisters. He thought of them before he thought of himself. He thought of the broader community before he thought of himself.” Garcia told CNN, that prior to becoming a deputy, Dhaliwal was an entrepreneur with a trucking business.

He said that when Dhaliwal came to know that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office needed someone like him to build bridges between the Sikh community and the sheriff’s office because of a mishap that had happened prior, he asked his father for permission. Dhaliwal sold his business to take lower pay as a detention officer and worked his way up to be a deputy, Garcia told CNN.

Moments after Dhaliwal’s death, the Harris County Sheriff Department’s Facebook page was flooded with messages from community members, praising Dhaliwal and mourning his death. A video posted on the page, sent by a Harris County resident shows Dhaliwal sharing a light moment with a young boy. “He laughed and joked with all of us, and left a bright impression on my son who is deaf. We send our condolences to his family and the law enforcement community,” the sender said.

“Deputy Dhaliwal is an incredible loss not only to our HCSO family but to the entire community,” another post by the department said. “Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was an extraordinary individual, after Hurricane Harvey he collected supplies to help the community.” A video posted shows him thanking United Sikhs for their donations.

Meanwhile, the United Sikhs set up an online fundraiser to support Dhaliwal’s wife and three young children “to help support their educational needs and to continue his aspirations to uplift humanity and his fellow first-responders.” In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, he led a team volunteers to provide disaster relief to those in need across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the United Sikhs post said. In Punjab, he led the effort to help us provide humanitarian aid for farmers working to survive a record drought.

A GoFundMe page created to collect funds for Dhaliwali’s family said that he “went above and beyond to serve the people of his community as well as communities in Puerto Rico, California, and India.”

In 2015, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office made an official policy that allowed Dhaliwal to wear his beard and turban on duty, according to CNN affiliate KTRK-TV. “As a Sikh American, I felt the need to represent the Sikh community in law enforcement,” Dhaliwal said at the time. “It will give me the chance to open up the conversation.” He was the first Texas law enforcement officer allowed to wear a turban on duty.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that nearly 100 Sikh police officers and veterans have called on law enforcement associations to create formal policies to allow officers to wear articles of faith. “We believe that no Sikh should have to face the impossible decision of choosing between their faith and public service,” the letter said, according to the Guardian report.

“Deputy Dhaliwal’s service has shown that Sikhs have proven their mettle and desire to serve on the front lines of law enforcement while maintaining their religious articles of faith – and have done so with distinction and the respect of their communities,” the letter said. “We hope that with the legacy of Deputy Dhaliwal in mind, we honor his sacrifice to our nation by ensuring that more Sikhs are permitted to serve in law enforcement with their religious articles of faith intact.”

The Guardian report, citing the Sikh Coalition said that only 25 of the country’s 15,400 police departments have specific policies on articles of faith.

The June, Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa became the first officer in the US Air Force to be allowed to wear a turban.

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