A Sikh man is speaking out after he said he was denied entry to a Sacramento Kings game at Golden 1 Center for wearing his kirpan, a religious item.
Mandeep Singh, a 37-year-old community organizer in Sacramento for the Sikh nonprofit organization the Jakara Movement, said he was stopped earlier this week at security and told he couldn’t enter with his kirpan, a ceremonial dagger.
It was particularly surprising to him, he said, since he worked closely with the team as an ambassador for community engagement to bring in fans from the local Sikh community on several occasions. He had been invited to a Holi-themed night at the arena the week prior.
“We had a huge role connecting the Kings to the Punjabi Sikh community,” he told NBC News.
Singh said that after removing all the items from his pockets, the security guard checked him with a metal-detecting wand. When he hovered over the kirpan, which was worn under his shirt, Singh explained that he was an initiated Sikh and was wearing it as a part of his religion.
Initiated Sikhs are required to carry or maintain the five articles of the Sikh faith: kesh (unshorn hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (small wooden comb), kachera (undershorts) and a kirpan.
“I talked to him and tried to explain what it was. I was like, ‘This hasn’t been an issue before.’ I know many people that came in with a kirpan and he just was not budging,” he said. Singh asked to speak with a supervisor and was told the same thing.
He had planned to attend the game with a co-worker and a high school student as part of his nonprofit program. But he said after 10 minutes passed, he told them to just go on without him because he knew he wouldn’t be allowed inside.
The Kings declined to comment on the incident and referred NBC News to the arena’s prohibited items policies, which include “weapons and dangerous devices of any kind.” The NBA also declined to comment and referred NBC to the Kings.
After being directed to security at the employee entrance, he said he was told again that he would have to remove his kirpan to enter the arena.
“You can’t just tell a Sikh to take off his kirpan. It’s not just some piece of fashion you take off. It’s a part of who I am,” he explained.
He shared a multi-tweet thread on Monday detailing the experience.
He said he didn’t expect the tweet to garner so much attention but is grateful for the support from his community.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to say anything, but then I thought about the youth we work with,” he said. Singh said he’d faced religious discrimination in the past that he’s brushed off, but knowing that a student was present, he had to speak up.
The incident comes months after a video of a Sikh student being handcuffed for wearing a kirpan at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte went viral online. UNCC changed its campus policy two months later to allow Sikh students to wear their kirpan.