Sikh hate crime victims demand action

"This is not a Sikh problem. This is a human problem."

This week in New York City, three Sikh men -- all violently attacked because of their turbans in separate hate crimes -- called on the city's government and police leaders to enact policy reforms to address violence and discrimination against minority communities. Two of the incidents have occurred within the last three weeks.

At a press conference organized by the Sikh Coalition, Dr. Jaspreet Singh Batra, a medical scientist, recounted how he was attacked and injured last Thursday on Roosevelt Island. Sandeep Singh, a business owner and father, spoke via video because of the seriousness of his injuries, after being run over and dragged by a driver in a pick-up truck on a public street in Queens late last month.

Both assaults, which were accompanied by racial and religious slurs, occurred almost one year after Dr. Prabhjot Singh was attacked in Harlem. Dr. Singh joined the men in solidarity.

Calling on Mayor De Blasio and Police Commissioner Chief Bratton to address the hate and violence, Singh said "This is not a Sikh problem, although Sikhs are being attacked. This is a human problem, a New York City problem, and an American problem about how we take responsibility for each other."

Here is Sandeep Singh's statement:

Here is Jaspreet Singh Batra's statement:

Statement of Dr. Jaspreet Singh Batra
August 14, 2014

On August 7th, as I was walking with my mother for dinner to celebrate her birthday, I was attacked by a group of young people on Roosevelt Island. They called us “Osama bin Laden” and told us to “goback to your country.” One of them punched me in the face. Another one punched me in the back of the neck. I tried to pursue them but had to call the police and go the hospital. My family and I always deplored hate crimes from a distance. Ever since August 7th, we now had to experience not just the pain inflicted from such a crime but also have to bear the agony during the healing process.

Thankfully, we found much needed support from family, friends and from citizens of this country far and near. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by hatred during the incident but now we are surrounded by positive energy.

As much as the healing process is painful, it also gave us the time to reflect on certain

1) How come young minds that have so much to learn and explore have become the breeding grounds of hatred? Should we hold these teenagers accountable or their parents, or the education system here in New York City, which has failed them and as a result has failed us?

2) My mother and I were called “Osama bin Laden.” Is the “O” word the new “N” word?

3) Ever since 9/11 happened, the whole world changed forever. Sikhs became victims of hate crime in increasing numbers. Despite so many resources being channeled towards diversity awareness campaigns, Sikhs are still being attacked. We need more proactive strategies at all levels of society to end this bigotry.

4) Policy makers need to come up with a plan to develop and implement a mandatory diversity education program in schools and colleges that teaches young people about the value of all faiths and ethnicities. That's the right time to catch these young minds and offer them the opportunity to explore the beauty that lies in diversity

5) Not taking any action is a recipe for disaster and an invitation for further abuse/crime. I look for justice but not for vengeance. If these young people or their parents come forward and accept their fault, we can let the healing begin and take a positive approach to involve them in the community and pass a message of peace and tolerance to society at large.

Thank you.

And here is Prabhjot Singh's statement:

Statement of Dr. Prabhjot Singh
August 14, 2014

It has been a year since I was attacked near my home in Harlem. My fractured jaw has healed, and I walk freely in my neighborhood. People who I have not seen in a long time, and new people I meet still ask me if I am ok, if my family is ok. Today is my son's second birthday, and this weekend we will celebrate with friends in Central Park.

As I reflect on the past year of my life, I think it’s fair to say that things were just on the verge of returning to how they used to be. Over the past two weeks, my sense of comfort and my illusion of “normalcy” have been shattered. In the past two weeks, two men who vaguely resemble me were physically attacked, just like I was. Their attackers called them the same names as they brutalized them. Both targets, like myself, ended up in the hospital.

The attack on Dr. Batra evoked a sense of deja vous -- a doctor like myself being called a terrorist and then attacked by a group of young people. After being verbally abused, his mother watched it all take place. They were attacked, ironically, for the same visible articles of faith that commits them to a path of justice, compassion and service.

Sandeep Singh barely survived and is still recovering from a hate crime that reminded me of James Byrd being dragged for 3 miles under a car in 1998 by white supremacists in Texas. We like to think that such bigoted violence happens elsewhere, not at home. But all this took place in the here and now, in New York City, the most metropolitan city in this country.

Both Sandeep Singh and Dr. Batra were targeted for the same reasons that I was and their stories are very similar to mine. Over the past year, I have been thinking about what kind of problem we are facing and what we can do to resolve it so that my 2-year old has a better New York City to call home.

Although we are dealing with a tough and serious problem, I am encouraged by the fact that there are common sense solutions. The problem starts with an environment in which verbal assault is commonplace in school, on the street, even in the workplace -- occasionally from patients in the hospital. This is the pressure cooker, where if a person calmly but assertively stands up for themselves in the face of bigorty, as Dr. Batra and Sandeep Singh did, situations combust. That's just how things were.

Here are my thoughts on how things should be:

- When my son starts school, I should not have to worry that the anti-bullying laws enacted 10 years that benefit all American kids are ignored. As parents, my wife and I will teach him how to firmly stand up for himself, to be generous and confident, to take the hard path to do the right thing. But beyond that, I will send him to class everyday trusting that the school systems will take care of him. I am disheartened to know that the city has not succeeded in making our schools safe places for our children, and I expect some leadership to come forward and devise some solutions. Failing our children is not an option. As Rajdeep suggested, the City needs to take the lead on organizing task force to take on violence and discrimination, and this should start with our children.

- When I walk on the streets, I want to trust the police force that is supposed to protect me. I was outraged to hear that Sandeep Singh's brother had to leave his brother’s bedside to collect video footage of the hate crime from a bodega. We should all be outraged. I’m reminded that the organization from which we are seeking help – the NYPD – discriminates against us in the workplace. To this day, I would not be allowed to serve in the NYPD because of how I look. What kind of message does this send to the community? The trust of a community hangs in the balance. Our nation's capital does not have this problem – they let Sikhs serve on the police force – this is the kind of problem that has a simple solution. Let Sikhs serve in the NYPD [emphatic].

- When I work in my neighborhood, where we are trying to improve our neighbors health by hiring and training those around us, I want to know that my city is doing what it can to build solidarity amongst communities with different backgrounds and histories, large and small. In my work in Harlem, I know that pretty much everyone knows everyone. People know who attacked me, even though most are at large. I am sure that is the case in Roosevelt Island where Dr. Batra was attacked, and in Queens, where Sandeep Singh was attacked. We don't always need heavy-handed interventions to bring closure to conflict, or constructive solutions to challenging problems. The assailants should come forward. They should know that taking responsibility is the start of the right thing to do. They should know it is an opportunity to start walking on the right path. But these opportunities don't just come out of thin air, they require the organizing power and status on our City leaders can provide.

In short, take care of our kids, and teach them while they are listening. Stop discriminating against Sikhs who want to join the NYPD and let's address a common challenge. Finally, show us the city wide leadership that brings out the best in our diverse communities through a taskforce that can solve problems in ways that people like Sandeep Singh and Dr. Batra find constructive and bring closure for both them and their assailants.

Justice and compassion come hand in hand. But without justice, compassion is seen as naive when history repeats. Without compassion, justice is another form of punishment we inflict upon each other. This is not a Sikh problem, although Sikhs are being attacked. This is a human problem, a New York City problem, and an American problem about how we take responsibility for each other. I hope that Mayor De Blasio and Police Commissioner Chief Bratton will follow through on meeting with us to find a productive way forward. We can't afford to be satisfied with how things are at this point, and we must resolve to progress, for the sake of ourselves and for our children.

For further information about the press conference, visit the Sikh Coalition website.

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