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US man puts gun to cabbie’s head: ‘I hate turban people’

“Which country do you belong to?... I hate turban people,” a male passenger said and held a gun to Gurjeet Singh’s head

punjab Updated: Feb 16, 2018 12:32 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
hate crime,Sikh Coalition organisation,Illinois
Leaders of Sikh Coalition expressed frustration on Wednesday after meeting with Rock Island county sheriff Gerry Bustos.(Courtesy of Sikh Coalition)

A sheriff’s office in Illinois, US, is investigating a case of assault on a Sikh man working as an Uber driver that is purportedly a hate crime, reports said on Thursday, after allegations that neither has the attackers been arrested nor the legal provisions against hate crime been imposed.

“Which country do you belong to?... I hate turban people,” a male passenger said and held a gun to the head of Gurjeet Singh, who is also a head granthi (religious community leader) and lives in Northwest Illinois, in the January 28, according to community organisation Sikh Coalition.

Sikh men in America, repeatedly mistaken for Muslims because of their turban-and-beard appearance in a growing atmosphere of Islamophobia, have been victims of numerous hate crimes, including a man mistaken for “an Arab” and murdered immediately after the 9/11 bombings, and six members of a gurdwara in Wisconsin killed in a mass shooting, according to details given in a report in The Washington Post.

Sikh Coalition says it continues to provide free legal representation to Gurjeet and “will continue to use every form of available advocacy to guarantee justice is brought”.

Leaders of Sikh Coalition expressed frustration on Wednesday after meeting with Rock Island county sheriff Gerry Bustos, over the fact that the passenger has not been arrested since the attack, which the driver reported to police on January 29, the day after it occurred. The sheriff told the Post that he expects to charge the suspect with aggravated assault and “perhaps further charges” by the week’s end, after he receives information that the sheriff’s office has requested from Uber through a search warrant.

Investigators have interviewed the driver, the suspect and another passenger who was in the car, Bustos was quoted as saying. He reportedly said that the driver picked up the two passengers together around 11 pm, soon after which the male passenger and the driver got into an argument. He said he couldn’t disclose the details of the argument while the investigation is underway. “The argument was about where people’s loyalties lie. There was an argument over where people were from,” he was quoted as saying.

‘Us or you?’

The Sikh Coalition said that the male passenger started asking Singh, the driver, a series of questions: “What is your status here? Which country do you belong to? Do you serve your country or do you serve our country?”

The organisation said that Singh, a legal US resident who does not speak fluent English, said he serves the US and India, because his parents live there. Then, Singh said, the passenger put a gun to his head and said he hated “turban people.” Singh stopped the car. The organisation said that the passenger’s female companion then forced him out of the car, and told Singh to drive away. “She apologised and said, ‘I’m sorry, he shouldn’t have said that to you,’ ” said Amrith Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, according to the Post report.

Kaur, who said she was a local prosecutor for 11 years, said the Sikh community is ill at ease that the passenger has not yet been arrested. “If you say you hate turban people and you say you hate beard people and you put a gun to their head, that is a textbook hate crime,” she is further quoted as saying. “The problem of hatred in our communities is outrageous. Since 9/11, the Sikh community has experienced such violence in America. … The fact that in 2018, it’s scary to be brown in America is completely unacceptable. People need to understand, this isn’t just an attack on an individual.”

The sheriff has said he’s heard those fears. “We’re hoping to bring this case to resolution, certainly, for the Sikh community as quickly as possible, because I know they’re concerned,” Bustos told the reporter. “The moment we are able to file a criminal charge, we absolutely will.”

#JusticeForGurjeet: Sikh Coalition calls for community action

After making known its dissatisfaction over alleged inaction in a case of assault by a passenger on a Sikh driver working for Uber last month in Illinois (US), community organisation Sikh Coalition on Thursday underlined that “three weeks later, no arrest has been made and no hate crime charges have been filed”.

It has coined the slogan #JusticeForGurjeet to press for a social media drive, and urges people to take three actions as per details on the website sikhcoalition.org. First, it says, call the Rock Island (area) sheriff’s department on the phone number (+1) 309-794-1230, and ask for hate crime charges to be submitted and an arrest be made. Then, also call the district attorney’s office at (+1) 309-558-3250, and tell him “that local prosecutors have a responsibility to protect Sikhs and other minority communities from bigotry, hate and violence. What happened to Gurjeet should never happen again and hate crime charges must be filed”. Third, make posts on social media with the words #JusticeForGurjeet. “Sample social media post: As someone who respects freedom and justice, Rock Island authorities should make #JusticeForGurjeet their top priority and arrest his attacker & file hate crime charges.”

The Sikh Coalition says it continues to provide free legal representation to Gurjeet and “will continue to use every form of available advocacy to guarantee that justice is brought in this case”. “As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly,” says the post on its website.

First Published: Feb 16, 2018 11:10 IST