(New York, New York) September 23, 2013 - State and federal law enforcement authorities in New York City are investigating an alleged hate crime that took place on Saturday, September 21, 2013, in Harlem, New York City, that left a Columbia University assistant professor hospitalized. Dr. Prabhjot Singh was attacked by a large group of teenagers who shouted "get Osama" and "terrorist" as they surrounded him on bicycles, pulling his beard and punching him. Shortly after the incident, a Muslim woman was attacked a few blocks away.
An ambulance rushed Dr. Singh to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he also works as a resident physician. Dr. Singh was hospitalized with displaced teeth, severe bruising and swelling, a small puncture in his elbow, and a possible fracture in his lower jaw. By Sunday evening, Dr. Singh was resting after surgery.
“It’s clear that the associations between beards and turbans and terrorism are devastating for an entire community, so I want to continue working to show that core American values are core Sikh values as well,” said Dr. Singh. “Most importantly, I want it so that my 1-year-old has nothing to fear in this neighborhood.”
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Working together, the Sikh Coalition and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) have called on law enforcement officials, including the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to conduct a thorough investigation of the attack. Both the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF are working with Dr. Singh and his family in New York.
“This is a blow not just to Prabhjot and Sikh Americans, but to the ideals of all New Yorkers,” said Amardeep Singh, Program Director at the Sikh Coalition. “What happened did not happen in a vacuum. Here in New York City, we regularly receive reports that Sikh school children are called ‘Bin Laden’ or ‘terrorist’ by classmates and sometimes endure physical violence.”
According to Sikh Coalition community surveys, approximately ten percent of respondents in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area have experienced bias-based assaults or property damage because of their Sikh identity. A joint report published earlier this month by the Sikh Coalition and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) found that bias-based bullying against Asian American children, including Sikhs, in New York City Public Schools has increased by 20 percent since 2009.
"Unfortunately our research confirms that Prabhjot's experience is not the result of isolated misperception and intolerance," said Jasjit Singh, SALDEF's Executive Director. "Here you have a practicing doctor, a teacher and a community servant who was attacked simply because of how he looks. This violence is an affront to all Americans' core values."
The incident comes less than two weeks after a national study showed 70 per cent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers in the U.S. as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto. The study also showed that nearly half of Americans believe “Sikh” is a sect of Islam, and more associate the turban with Osama bin Laden than with named Muslim and Sikh alternatives. The study was conducted by Stanford University researchers and sponsored by SALDEF.
As the investigation unfolds, we encourage the community to remain calm and offer prayers to Dr. Singh and his family for a speedy recovery. Individuals with specific information that could lead to the arrest of the assailants are asked to contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force at 1-800-577-TIPS.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith.