Sikh NYC cab driver attacked, has turban snatched in suspected hate crime

Sikh NYC cab driver attacked, has turban snatched in suspected hate crime
A Sikh New York taxi cab driver has been attacked and had his turban stolen during a confrontation with a drunken passenger. Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

“I’m so afraid. I don’t want to work,” Harkirat Singh told the New York Daily News about the incident. “It’s an insult to my religion, also. An insult to my faith. It’s horrible.”

Queens resident Singh said he picked up three men and a woman, all in their 20s, early Sunday morning from Madison Square Garden. They asked to be driven to an address in the Bronx, which Singh asked them to enter into his GPS. When they arrived at the destination, they complained he had taken them to the wrong address but could not give him a straight answer on where they wanted to go.

The passengers began hurling insults and banging on the plastic divide in the cab, according to Singh.

“They’re using bad words, also,” he told the New York Daily News, adding that they called him “Ali Baba.”

Singh told the group to pay him the fare and find another cab. The woman gave him the cash after he called 911, but one of the men reportedly got back in the cab and tried to smash the meter. Singh says he was then punched in the arm.

“After that, he picked off my turban from my head,” Singh said. “He wanted to snatch my phone also… It was too horrible.”

As the man become violent, Singh said he felt terrified and started to cry, pleading for him to calm down.

“Why are you doing this brother? We can sit. We can talk,” Singh said he told the passenger – who he described as “Spanish.”

Singh said he was afraid he was going to be killed, and said the man was “very ugly with me.”

The man left with his turban.

Removing the turban is one of the biggest insults that can be imposed on a Sikh, according to Rajdeep Singh Jolly, managing director of programs for the Sikh Coalition.

“The turban is an integral part of Sikh religious identity and an attack on the turban is considered a grave, grave insult,” Jolly told RT.

Police sources describe the suspect as a clean-shaven, white Hispanic man in his 20s and 30s, around 5ft 9in. Police are seeking one suspect but would like to talk to the other three passengers.

Singh did not require medical attention but filed a police report, and was able to take pictures of the group.

Jolly said the attack had all the hallmarks of a hate crime, Singh's turban was ripped off, he was subjected to expletives but he now understands that the attack might have been classified as a robbery because the turban was stolen.

“We are very interested in knowing the extent to which the NYPD is investigating this as a hate crime,” said Jolly. 

Jolly said in the broader context of hate crimes, the strategy should be on how to prevent them from occurring.

“One idea is to work with schools…to infuse into our kids a deep appreciation for people who may look different and who may believe different things,” said Jolly.

After the 9/11 attacks, the backlash that hit Muslims across the country has expanded to include Sikhs as well, and the alarming trend has continued following other terrorist attacks, including the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.

In May 2016, a Sikh man was fixing the car in his driveway in Kent, Washington state, when a gunman wearing a mask approached him and pulled the trigger, telling the victim to “go back to your own country,” he told police.

Jolly cautioned that violence against Sikh is not exclusively a post-911 phenomenon, and not exclusively tied to anti-Muslim bias. Violence and discrimination is almost a century old, going back to 1907, where Sikhs were discriminated against because “they were perceived different, as foreign, as alien.”

“Certainly hate crimes against Sikh has accelerated in the post 9-11 phenomena because the prevailing stereotype is if someone wears a turban they are somehow affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS, whereas the majority of Americans who wear turbans are Sikhs.”