Man sentenced to 15 months in attack on Sikh taxi driver

"He attacked my faith, my dignity, and my entire community."

On Friday in Seattle, a man was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to the 2017 assault with a deadly weapon of a 53-year-old Sikh American taxi driver.

Swarn Singh, who maintains and unshorn beard and wears a turban in observance with this Sikh faith, was driving his taxi last December when Rory Benson, a passenger, brutally attacked him with a hammer.

On December 16, 2017, Singh had parked outside an apartment building to drop off Rory Benson and his mother. It was then that Benson, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, attacked Singh, grabbing the piece of cloth Singh kept in his taxi to wipe the windshield and attempted to suffocate him with it.

Singh immediately ran out of the taxi, but Benson, grabbing a hammer from his bag, chased him on foot. He caught up to Singh and hit him in the head repeatedly, specifically targeting his turban and knocking it to the ground. Singh suffered a scalp laceration and a skull fracture. Benson was arrested.

"When Mr. Benson attacked my turban, he attacked my identity.
He attacked my faith, my dignity, and my entire community."

In an impact statement submitted to the King County Superior Court, Singh urged his attacker to recognize the damage he caused, detailing his injuries and the impact of the assault on the Sikh community. Although the attack occurred a year ago, Singh says it still haunts him, and he doesn't think he'll ever fully recover.

"I thought Mr. Benson was going to kill me," Singh's statement reads. "I still work as a taxi driver every day to support my family, but I can't drive at night anymore. I am too scared. It has been almost a year since the attack, and I still have to take anxiety

Singh believes Benson targeted his turban, and the assault was an attack on his religious and cultural identity.

"My turban is not just a piece of cloth. It is a religious commitment," Singh's statement continues. "When I tie it on my head every morning, I do it very carefully, never letting the cloth touch the ground. I believe that when my turban is tied, it ceases to be a piece of cloth, and becomes one and the same with my body. I do not let people touch my turban. In fact, removing a Sikh's turban is one of the most humiliating things anyone can do to a Sikh. It symbolizes denying that person the right to belong to the Sikh faith."

"When Mr. Benson attacked my turban, he attacked my identity. He attacked my faith, my dignity, and my entire community."

Still, despite his hurt and trauma, Singh amazingly offers Benson his brotherhood.

"In my religion, we believe that all human beings are one. We believe that all people are equal, regardless of our many differences. I understand that Mr. Benson is a military veteran and he has mental health issues. I sincerely hope he gets the help that he needs. I still consider him my brother, and I hope that he will learn about my community, and one day consider me his brother too."

The Sikh Coalition, which represented Singh during court proceedings, provides free and confidential legal assistance to Sikhs who have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or identity. To learn more, or to report incidents of bias, bigotry or backlash, visit sikhcoalition.org.

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