Spike in hate crimes: Sikh Prof. attacked, Muslim woman assaulted

Columbia Prof. in hospital after brutal attack in NYC.

By Deepak Chitnis

Prof. Prabhjot Singh. Photo courtesy of Columbia University.

WASHINGTON, DC: An Indian American professor at Columbia University was violently attacked Saturday night in upper Manhattan, which the New York Police Department is now investigating as a hate crime.

Prabhjot Singh, an assistant professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, was walking along 110th Street in Manhattan around 8:15pm on Saturday night when he was accosted by multiple assailants, who beat him. The suspects – the exact number of which is as yet unconfirmed – are also alleged to have been shouting anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim phrases while beating Singh, such as “terrorist” and “Osama.”

Singh, who is a Sikh and wears a turban, is also the Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute, and the co-chair of the One Million Community Health Worker Campaign. He holds an MD from Cornell and a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, as well as a post-doctoral fellowship from Columbia. He has a wife and one year-old son, both of whom he had dropped off at home before going on a walk on Saturday, which is when the assault occurred.

Singh is currently at Mt. Sinai Hospital; his injuries are said to be non-life threatening, but they are serious – he is missing several teeth, has a fractured jaw, and his face is severely swollen from having been beaten.

Amardeep Singh, the program director of the Sikh Coalition, called the incident “tremendous blow” to Sikhs, as well as New Yorkers in general, in a statement to CNN: “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.”

Also on Saturday, a Muslim woman was verbally and physically assaulted by a white man during a pro-democracy rally at Times Square, New York. During the incident – which was caught on video, below – the man is seen calling the woman a “[expletive] terrorist” and forcefully throwing a sign at her head.

Sadiya Khalique, the Operations Coordinator for the New York branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called for swift judiciary action against the perpetrator of the crime. CAIR is the largest Muslim-American advocacy group in the US, and in a statement to The American Bazaar, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper talked about the incident and its aftermath.

“There is no record with the NYPD [New York Police Department] about this man’s arrest of any sort of charge,” said Hooper. “You would think that with the incident being caught on video and posted online, action would be taken even faster because the evidence is right there. We are following up with the NYPD to see if this man has been arrested or let go, and if he’s been let go then he needs to be re-arrested immediately.”

The woman who was attacked also spoke exclusively with The American Bazaar. Asking to be identified only as Rachel, she reiterated Hooper’s belief that the perpetrator must be located and charged with a hate crime.

“He came out of the subway and started pushing three young children out of his way. I called to the police to draw attention to [the pushing,] to see if they would do anything about it, and that’s when [the assailant] turned his attention to me. Luckily I wear glasses, so the sign kind of hit those and my nose, and it was nothing more serious.”

Both of these incidents add to the recent wave of crimes against Sikhs and Muslims in the US. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some Sikhs were murdered by ignorant Americans who mistook them for Muslims and al-Qaeda sympathizers – including Balbir Singh Sodhi, in Phoenix, Arizona, the first victim of a hate crime following the terrorist attacks.

Last year, a white supremacist fired shots inside a Sikh gurudwara outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, killing six innocent people in the process. And in July, graffiti artists scrawled the word “Terrorist” on the wall outside a gurudwara in California.

The crime rate against these minorities has become such an epidemic over the past year that the FBI has begun tracking and prosecuting crimes against these minorities (and Hindus as well) as hate crimes.

When asked about her thoughts on the FBI tracking hate crimes against Muslims, Rachel said “The FBI doesn’t care about protecting Muslims, only targeting them. If this was a Muslim man at a Syria rally, he’d be all over the news. But in this case, they haven’t even arrested him.”

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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