The signs, posted by the NYPD, dot West 110th Street (also known as Central Park North) between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West (also known as Frederick Douglass Boulevard).
They offer a modest reward for information leading to the arrest of individuals involved in an attack that took place in that area on September 21. But the signs serve as a larger call to action as well. They call us to address the discrimination and hate that apparently fuel this particular incident and related violence.
The signs include a photo and note that more than one person may have participated in the attack. But they give few other details. Other sources do. The Huffington Post fills in details:
Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who is Sikh and wears a turban and a beard, was attacked at 8:15 p.m. while walking along 110th Street near Lenox Avenue in upper Manhattan. An unknown suspect or suspects shouted anti-Muslim statements, knocked the professor down and punched him numerous times in the face.
The Gothamist provides more information:
Dr. Singh has a Sikh beard and was wearing a turban. He described the attack: “I heard ‘Get Osama’ and then ‘terrorists,’ and then the next thing I felt was someone moving past me, ripping at my beard and then hitting me in the chin.”
Dr. Singh added that he tried to run away but was punched in the face and other parts of his body. Even when he was on the ground, he was punched and kicked. His jaw was fractured, but Dr. Singh credits a passerby for helping him. He said, “There’s no doubt in my mind it was a bias-related event.” The police are investigating the crime.
In the aftermath of the August 5, 2012 shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara at Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed seven lives, including that of the gunman, Simran Jeet Singh and Dr. Prabhjot Singh wrote an op-ed about hate crimes directed against Sikhs for The New York Times.
They raised two important points about Sikhs and hate crimes. They note a lack of data about the extent of anti-Sikh hatred:
The F.B.I. currently classifies nearly all hate violence against American Sikhs as instances of anti-Islamic or anti-Muslim hate crimes. As a result, we do not have official statistics on the extent of hate crimes in which Sikhs are targeted, despite a long history of such violence.
They also note that “mistaken identity” factors in many of the attacks on Sikhs. As happened in the case of Dr Singh, Sikhs are targeted as Muslims. A recent study by “researchers at SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund) and Stanford University found that 70% of Americans misidentify turban-wearers as Muslim (48%), Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto. In fact, almost all men in the U.S. who wear turbans are Sikh Americans, whose faith originated in India.”
The Huffington Post reports an outrage endured by another Sikh, Jagjeet Singh. It did not involve overt physical violence. But it was cruel and demeaning and rooted in prejudice and ignorance:
The ACLU wrote a letter on Wednesday to decry the shocking treatment of Jagjeet Singh, a practicing Sikh, at the hands of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Pike County Justice Court.
Singh was pulled over in January for a flat tire, and was harassed by the state’s Department of Transportation officers who wrongly assumed that his kirpan, a small spiritual sword that is a religious article for Sikhs, was illegal. They taunted him as a “terrorist” and arrested him for refusing to obey “an officer’s lawful command,”reports the ACLU.
On his March 26th court date, Judge Aubrey Rimes of the Pike County Justice Court ejected him from the courtroom stating that Singh would not be allowed to re-enter unless he removed “that rag” from his head.
Singh’s attorney confirmed that Rimes expelled him due to his turban.
Physical attacks. Shootings. Harassment. Discrimination. All based on who a person is or who a person is perceived to be.
Such acts of hate and bigotry have no place in the United States of America. They violate our sisters and brothers most directly. But they also violate our values and in so doing, they violate who we want to be.
There are steps we can take as a society and as individuals to address this situation.
As a society, we can urge law enforcement to track violence against our Sikh brothers and sisters. We can further urge law enforcement to enforce existing laws. We can also also hold events to meet one another, learn from one another, and build community.
Each of us will need to decide what steps we will take. I plan to learn more about the Sikh faith and to meet more Sikhs. I have asked my colleague Christine Hong to introduce me to Simran Jeet Singh. I will share what I learn. I will speak out about discrimination and violence against my sisters and brothers. I will work to break the hold of violence on human hearts. I will remain open to see where this journey leads.
The signs along W. 110th Street call us to action. How will you respond?
See you along the Trail.