Received letters threatening me and my family: Sikh mayor of New Jersey
Hoboken's Sikh Mayor Ravi Bhalla says he received threatening letters last year, calling for his resignation owing to his Sikh faith, referencing the post-9/11 backlash against Sikh Americans
The Indian-origin Sikh mayor of Hoboken city in the US state of New Jersey has opened up about being the target of a series of letters that threatened to kill him and his family.
The letters, which he received last year, first called on Hoboken mayor Ravi Bhalla, a practising Sikh, to resign, but then began threatening his and his family's lives, targeting him for his Sikh faith, CBS News reported on Tuesday 17 October.
Bhalla, however, told CBS News that he and his family were standing strong and that hate was not welcome in his city. Bhalla, who was first elected as Hoboken mayor in 2017, said: "I'm very proud to lead this city as an American of Sikh background." He won again in 2021 after running unopposed.
For a man who always wears his turban with pride, Bhalla said he had been the target of threatening messages. "Our family began receiving a series of letters in the mail," he said.
The first, more than a year ago, asked him to resign, and then a second letter threatened his life. "The third threat, the most jolting, came soon thereafter and said, 'This is your last warning. If you don't resign immediately, we will kill you, we'll kill your wife, we'll kill your children," he recounted. One letter read: "It's time to kill you."
"There was a lot of angst, anger, a lot of hate, combined with actual threats upon my life and the lives of my children and my wife," Bhalla said. It was enough for law enforcement agencies to provide the mayor with 24-hour security, including for his two children at school.
"My biggest concern was for my kids. I signed up to be mayor, but my kids didn't sign up for this type of behaviour," Bhalla said, adding that at the same time as he was receiving these threatening emails, his neighbours, his brother and a few city colleagues began receiving packages with sexually explicit and threatening materials.
He said the person responsible for those was caught and charged, but the person behind the threatening letters is still out there.
Bhalla is well aware of the backlash Sikh Americans endured after 9/11, the terror attacks that targeted various installations on US soil on 11 September 2001.
"As a Sikh-American, I'm a proud American and I want people to be treated equally," Bhalla said in response to a question on his experience as a Sikh politician 22 years after the attack that shook the entire country.
"There still is a strain of extremism in America, and it's just unfortunate to see that small strain is somewhere in Hoboken, as well. And I think that's what needs to be called out and that's what people need to know about so that we can eventually put an end to it through education and through love," he said.