Yet Another Hateful Act Against Sikhs: Mississippi Judge, Cops Harass and Unlawfully Detain Sikh Man

By Rohin Guha. Cross-posted from The Aerogram.

Not all hate crimes necessarily involve bloody noses and broken jaws. Some combine the one-two punch of hateful language and government-sanctioned bullying. What happened to Dr. Prabhjot Singh in Manhattan last Saturday is terrifying — and his ability to recover with grace is inspiring. A little bit trickier to parse is the Sikh man in Mississippi who earlier this year was harassed, humiliated, and arrested by several police officers and a judge in that state. We'll tell you now that this one at least ends with a little bit of justice.

In January of this year, Jageet Singh (no relation), a commercial truck driver, was pulled over for a flat tire by several cops. They then proceeded to mock him for his appearance, searched his vehicle without just cause, and even tried to get him to remove his kirpan -- laughing when he explained the significance of the article in the Sikh faith. Eventually, they arrested him -- not for the kirpan or even for the flat tire, but for "disobeying an officer." When Singh returned to Mississippi in March 2013 for a court date, he was waiting in the back of the courtroom for his attorney to arrive and was again accosted by four highway officers who told him to leave. They were acting on the orders of Judge Aubrey Rimes who wanted Singh ejected because he "didn't like his turban."

But wait, it gets better.

When Singh's attorney arrived, he went into Judge Rimes' chambers to probe further about that directive. Rimes' apparently said that Singh wouldn't be allowed back into the courthouse unless he removed "that rag" and he'd otherwise bump his case to the bottom of the docket if he continued to wear his turban.

Obviously, a county judge referring to a private citizen's religious head covering as "a rag" and harassing him like this is fifty million shades of what the hell and indicative of the same kind of troubling behavior that might cause a mob to jump a Columbia University professor as he's walking down the street.

Singh declined to remove his turban, and so he and his attorney had to wait hours before having their case heard. As mentioned earlier, this story does have a happier ending than most. Singh originally won his case thanks to the United Sikhs, which got legal counsel involved on Singh's behalf initially, who in turn got the U.S. Department of Justice involved. According to a recent update from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
"The Pike County Board of Supervisors recently recognized that Judge Rimes's harassment of Mr. Singh was unacceptable. In response to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Board revised the County's harassment and non-discrimination policy to explain that religious discrimination includes "requiring an individual to remove a head covering or denying that individual access to a County office, building, program or activity because they are wearing a head covering, if that head covering is worn for religious reasons."
The ACLU argues revision of local procedures may not be enough. Read the entire update here to learn what more the ACLU is seeking.

Rohin Guha is a contributing editor at The Aerogram. Follow him on Twitter @ohrohin. Find The Aerogram on Twitter @theaerogram.

angry archive