New Jersey bar owner Harinder Singh Bains made the call to police on Monday that led to the arrest of the man police suspect of planting explosives in New York and New Jersey over the weekend.
Bains, who is Sikh and immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1996, recognized Ahmad Khan Rahami from news reports. He told reporters on Monday that he’d done “what any American would do,” but added a harrowing caution.
“As a Sikh American, I realize that I could have been mistaken for the perpetrator,” Bains said in a statement. “I want to remind Americans that after an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent.”
Bains arrived at his establishment, Merdie’s Tavern, in Linden, New Jersey, Monday morning and saw what appeared to be a drunken man wandering the streets. The man entered a vestibule in front of the bar and fell asleep, leaning against a glass enclosure cracked in an earlier storm.
“I was worried the glass might break and injure him,” Bains told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “So I woke him up and told him to move off the glass. ... When he got up, I came face to face with him and that’s when I recognized him.”
Police had earlier identified Rahami as a potential suspect in the bombings based on surveillance footage and fingerprints on one of the devices.
In New York City, a mass text message went out to residents with the simple warning: “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”
The message stirred New Yorkers and many became hyper-vigilant, leading some to worry about scapegoating and profiling.
“Today, brown guys like me are walking around worrying about the threat of terrorism like everyone else,” Shuja Haider, a New Yorker of Pakistani descent, told The New York Times. “But we’re also worried about being blamed for it.”
Bains said people shouldn’t profile others “because of their look or faith,” but said he thought authorities acted judiciously in sending the alert for Rahami.
“If someone has done wrong and he’s wanted, it doesn’t matter what he looks like,” Bains said.
Police apprehended Rahami swiftly, thanks to Bains’ call. But as many Muslim Americans ― and Americans from Sikh, Hindu, Arab and other backgrounds ― know, the story won’t necessarily end there.
Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim are increasingly becoming victims of hate crimes and Islamophobic acts. Hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs spiked last year in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and ensuing anti-Muslim rhetoric from politicians.
Donald Trump used the opportunity of the weekend bombings to call for increased profiling of potential terror suspects, but denied he was referring specifically to Muslims.
“While calls for profiling might create a splash in the news, study after study has shown that it is an ineffective tool for keeping us safe,” wrote Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, an op-ed on The Guardian.
“We do not yet know much about the motives of the person or people responsible for the weekend’s attacks. We do know that it is profoundly unfair to hold Muslim America collectively responsible for the violent acts of a few,” Patel added.
Read Harinder Singh Bains’ full statement:
When I heard about the attacks and realized the suspect was sleeping in a doorway across the street, I did what any American would do. I called the police. I’m not a hero. The police are heroes; the EMTs are heroes; everyone who is working to bring New York and New Jersey together today is a hero.
As a Sikh American, I realize that I could have been mistaken for the perpetrator. My faith teaches me justice and tolerance for all and I know that I’m lucky to live in a community that shares this view. I want to remind Americans that after an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent. I came to this country from India 20 years ago to create a better life for my family. I am a father of four and a proud American citizen. I am also what America looks like.
New Jerseyans stick together after something like this and I know that we’re all strongest as a nation when we stand together in the face of violence that is intended to divide us.