CHARLOTTE — The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has apologized after a person who follows the Sikh religion was handcuffed for having a knife in the student union, university officials said.
According to a message sent to the UNC Charlotte community Friday, campus police responded to a 911 call regarding someone with a knife Thursday. Once at the student union, officers approached the person and put them in handcuffs. During the interaction, the university said the police took an item from the person and then removed the handcuffs.
After further investigation, university officials said the object was a kirpan, an article of faith in Sikhism.
According to the Sikh Coalitionan organization that defends the civil rights of members of the religion, initiated Sikhs must have articles of faith with them at all times.
“I wasn’t going to post this, but I don’t think I will receive any support from @unccharlotte,” the person wrote on the post. “I was told someone called 911 and reported me, and I got cuffed for ‘resisting’ because I refused to let the officer take my kirpan out of the miyaan. @CLTNinerNews.”
UNC Charlotte officials said state law and university policy “prohibit the possession of a knife or other edged instruments on campus.”
According to a message sent to the campus community, the university said it wants to use the incident as a learning opportunity and work together with students who follow the Sikh faith.
“Together, we are confident we can find reasonable measures and educational opportunities that both protect the safety of our campus and the religious practices of our community members,” the message said. “We want every Niner to feel welcomed, supported and safe. We apologize that is not what this young man felt in our union yesterday.”
On Friday, the Sikh Coalition posted on Twitter, saying it was aware of a “disturbing video” of the incident.
Spa Wan Eet Singh is a leader in the Sikh community, as well as a member of the Interfaith Network.
He told Channel 9’s Glenn Counts that although a kirpan resembles a knife, it is not. It is a religious artifact.
“That is is a Sikh article of faith, (so) the notion around ‘weapon’ does not stand,” Singh said.
Count also spoke with Sikh Coalition member Dr. Suneet Kaur about this incident.
“It’s human nature to have this fear towards others,” Kaur said. “At the time that police were called, there was some serious misunderstanding and miscommunication, but this is an opportunity to help reverse that and help people to understand that this is part of our religion.”
Both Singh and Kaur told Channel 9 that they were thankful that UNCC apologized for the incident. They said they believed that step will help in the healing process, especially for the student who was involved.
“Of course, (we) offered him some encouragement and advice,” Kaur said. “If it happened to any one of us or to any one of our children, we’d be feeling so many emotions.”
The chancellor of UNCC has promised that there will be future dialogue and effort to accommodate Sikh students in order to ensure this situation does not happen again.
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