State and federal law enforcement authorities in New York City are investigating an alleged hate crime that left an Indian American Columbia University assistant professor hospitalized.
Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who wears a turban and beard in adherence to his Sikh faith, says he was walking in Harlem on the evening of Sept. 21 when a large group of teenagers shouted “get Osama” and “terrorist” as they surrounded him on bicycles and then attacked him.
Singh and members of Columbia University SEWA, The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sikh Coalition, and other members of the greater New York City community planned to hold a press conference to discuss the implications of this incident and how the community can move forward.
“There were about 20 of them,” Singh, who is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, stated in a press release. “A few surrounded me, started punching me and pulling my beard.”
The attack occurred near 110th St. and Lennox Ave. Shortly after the incident, a Muslim woman was attacked a few blocks away. There were several witnesses to both incidents.
An ambulance took Singh to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he also works as a resident physician. Singh was hospitalized with displaced teeth, severe bruising and swelling, a small puncture in his elbow, and a possible fracture in his lower jaw.
“This is a tremendous blow not just to Prabhjot and Sikh Americans but to the ideals, we believe, of all New Yorkers,” said Amardeep Singh, program director of 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.”
The incident comes less than two weeks after the first-ever nationwide public perception assessment of Sikh Americans, titled “Turban Myths,” showed that 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers in the United States 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.
“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 falling victim to hate in the largest and proudest melting pot in America. This violence is an affront to all Americans’ core values.”
The NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force and Columbia University’s Department of Public Safety are investigating the assault.