A teenage boy of Pakistani origin has been held guilty by a Queens Supreme Court jury of committing a hate crime by cutting off a Sikh boy's hair by force.
Umair Ahmed was held guilty on Friday of hate crimes, harassment and possession of a deadly weapon.
The trial stemmed from an incident last May when the victim, Harpal Singh Vacher, then 15, was a high school student in Queens borough. Ahmed, then 17, was also a student in the same school.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown observed: "The defendant has been convicted of a serious attack on the fundamental beliefs of the victim's religion and his freedom to worship freely. Crimes of hate will never be tolerated here in Queens County - in particular the most culturally diverse county in the nation."
Unshorn hair is one of the five articles of faith for Sikhs.
Depending on whether Ahmed is treated as a youthful offender or as an adult, he could face up to four years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 11, a press release by United Sikhs, an advocacy group, said.
Jaspreet Singh, staff attorney for United Sikhs, commented: "We are thankful that the perpetrator has been convicted, and that the jurors recognised that this was not a simple incident of hair cutting; freedom of religious practice must be preserved."
According to the testimony at trial, there was an argument May 23 last year between Ahmed, then 17, and Harpal Singh, fellow students at Newtown High School in Elmhurst. Ahmed threatened that he would beat up Singh and send him home naked.
The next day, Ahmed declared to Harpal in the school cafeteria: "I have to cut your hair". Wielding a pair of scissors, he forced the victim to accompany him to the restroom. In a closed stall of the restroom, Ahmed forced the Sikh boy to remove his turban and proceeded to cut his hair.
Another student, who entered the restroom at that time, reported the incident to a school safety agent.
After the school authorities said they could not guarantee his safety, Harpal Singh was transferred to another school