The Rediff US Special/Nirshan Perera
Two months ago, Patricia Thompson's carpet cleaners stepped outside to get something from their truck and came back with news of a nearby car crash.
As ambulance sirens spiraled closer, Thompson ran out of her Washington DC condominium and found herself staring into the face of taxi driver Jasbir Rajpal Singh.
The Sikh cabbie looked like he was sleeping, Thompson recalled recently. His neatly bearded face was serene and full of life. But the 46-year-old father of two was dead, shot once in the chest while driving through her Forestville neighborhood.
Shocked, unable to breath or move, Thompson stayed at Singh's side until paramedics took him away. That night, his face would haunt her, creeping into her dreams.
In the nation's crime capital, this inconsequential death, just another number racked up on the police blotter, ravaged her soul.
"It's something I've not been able to get over," Thompson, a minister at the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Oxon Hill, said of the February 1 incident. "I just can't get him out of my spirit."
Driven by her memory of Singh's face, she visited his family and urged neighbors and members of her church to get involved in the hunt for his killer. Several days later, Ark of Safety organized a candlelight vigil at the spot where he died, that brought the police a deluge of tips. An 18-year-old suspect, Richard Warren Crosson, was arrested a week later.
But Thompson remained troubled. The man who authorities believe shot Singh in a botched robbery was, like her, an African American and Thompson felt compelled to reach out to local Sikhs on behalf of her community.
Together with her pastor, the Rev C Anthony Muse, she organized an inter-faith memorial service on March 18. For perhaps the first time in local history, more than 50 Sikhs and 200 African Americans came together to pray, learn more about each other and heal the wounds inflicted by Singh's murder.
For hours, Sikhs and Christians sang hymns from their traditions, shared food and talked about their cultures. Throughout, a large photograph of Singh remained on the altar steps of Ark of Safety, a beacon of healing born out of tragedy.
"I am truly at home," observed Rajwant Singh, a dentist and community leader of the area's 8,000 plus Sikhs. "Your embracing us with open hearts and open arms has just turned this whole atmosphere wonderful for us."
"As far as I am concerned, Jesus Christ has resurrected here in the spirit of you embracing us and in the goodness with which we have come together."
"I only ask one thing of God: That he make my own house so wide that a stranger and friend can come in," he added, inviting the Christians present to attend a future prayer service at a Sikh gurdwara.
In halting English, the murdered man's brother-in-law Narinder Singh called Patricia Thompson "my sister" and thanked her and the African American community for their help and sympathy.
"One day, we're all going to die," he said through a translator. "I thinking that he (Singh) died for unity. What we have created today at this gathering must last forever."
Amarjit Singh, another local Sikh leader, spoke about the importance of dispelling community stereotypes tied to ignorance and praised Thompson for helping everyone take the first step toward better understanding.
"I know how stereotypes are struck in the minds of people, how stereotypes of whole communities are made," he said. "But a criminal is a criminal ... and the way we have gathered here today, the way Patricia Thompson has stood by us, has opened an opportunity for all our brothers and sisters to find out that love knows no boundaries."
"It's very uncomfortable to step onto ground you know nothing about," added Thompson. "To communicate with people you've never communicated with before. But God has given us a total communication that surpasses all races and color and nationalities, and the word is love."
"Mr Singh, I found out, was an true good man who was taken away before his time," she continued. "Every day I think about him. Should I wait for it to be my brother, my friend, my son? As a child of God, I must say to the world that we can't just sit around while this happens."
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