Two men were sentenced to jail for three years by a California court on Thursday for assaulting a Sikh man in September 2016 — they punched him, cut his hair and knocked off his turban — in a case that was described by authorities as a hate crime.
The assailants, Chase B Little and Colton T Leblanc, had been drinking and assaulted Maan S Khalsa, who they had encountered while driving to find food. They had assaulted him at a traffic light.
“They yanked my hair through the window and used a knife to saw parts of it off,” Khalsa said in a statement to the court. He had driven away when the traffic light turn green, with damaged teeth, a black eye and cuts and bruises, but, most importantly, he said, “my life is forever changed”.
“Before September 25, 2016, I was so carefree. I considered myself an American like everyone else. I had never worried about being a victim of prejudice. I enjoyed my life fully – working, volunteering across the country and globe, spending time with my family, horseback riding, working out in the gym and rock-climbing with my daughter.”
And now, nearly nine months after, “there are lasting impacts on my health – I have trouble with short-term memory, I have lost a body part (little finger), I struggle with PTSD, anxiety and depression, and it is difficult for me to sleep at night,” he said, bringing up an aspect of hate-crime trauma that goes mostly unreported.
“At work, I have had to use much of my sick leave, and I cannot perform at the level I used to. Due to my memory issues, I have trouble remembering important protocols, and have made mistakes on the job. Due to the loss of my finger, I struggle to type – an essential part of my job as an IT specialist.”
And, now he never steps out without pepper spray and “when I interact with strangers, I am not as open as I used to be – I am more likely to view others not as my brothers, but as possible threats to my safety. I used to travel across the country raising funds for my charity, openly talking to strangers about Sikhs and Sikhism, but now I’m afraid of driving long distances on my own.”
Sikhs in America have suffered prejudice and hate-attacks mostly by those who mistake them for being Middle Eastern because of their beard and turban, especially after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
The first victim of the backlash that followed was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man, who was standing outside his gas station in Arizona, when he was shot by a man who later talked about the killing of a “turban-head down the street”.