Authorities in the US have arrested and charged with hate crime a man, who attacked an Indian-origin Sikh taxi driver at JFK International Airport, knocked off his turban and yelled at him “turbaned people, go back to your country”.
Mohamed Hassanain was arrested on Thursday for the January 3 attack on the Sikh taxi driver, identified only as Mr Singh out of respect for his request for privacy.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD) confirmed on Friday that Hassanain was arrested for the attack against Mr Singh, said community-based civil and human rights organisation The Sikh Coalition.
The incident is being considered a hate crime, given that Hassanain shouted “go back to your country” and called Mr Singh “turbaned people” in a derogatory manner while repeatedly punching and shoving him, it said.
Hassanain is being charged with Assault in the Third Degree as a Hate Crime, Assault in the Third Degree, and Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, and will be arraigned on Saturday, it added.
“I am thankful to law enforcement, the Sikh Coalition, and all those in the community who have offered their strength in this difficult time,” Mr Singh said in a statement to The Sikh Coalition.
“No one should experience what I did–but if they do, I hope they receive the same overwhelming amount of support and quick, professional action by the authorities in response,” he said.
On January 3, New York City resident Mr Singh was physically attacked and berated near his cab at JFK International Airport. Mr Singh had parked his cab at the Terminal 4 taxi stand when another driver blocked his vehicle.
When Mr Singh picked up a customer, he stepped out of his car to ask the other driver to move. The other driver attempted to hit Mr Singh with his own car door; he then began repeatedly punching Mr Singh in the head, chest, and arms, causing his turban to become unraveled and fall off, the statement said.
The other driver called Mr Singh “turbaned people” and shouted at him to “go back to your country,” according to the statement issued by the organisation.
Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur Aakre said the organisation was grateful to the Port Authority Police Department and Queens District Attorney’s Office for their prompt action in this case, and for recognising that the attack on Mr Singh included clear anti-Sikh bias.
“This case underscores the importance of sharing all of the details of these kinds of attacks with law enforcement. Holding perpetrators accountable for both their actions and their hateful motivations is the clearest way to show that bigotry, and the violence that it fuels, have no place in our communities,” Aakre said.
Mr Singh had filed a report with the Port Authority Police Department immediately after the incident.
The Sikh Coalition worked to ensure that the report “paints an accurate picture of the attack given the language barrier during the initial conversations.” The organisation’s staff had accompanied Mr Singh to a meeting with a detective to provide language assistance and legal support.
The organisation said that in its experience, taxi and rideshare drivers from the Sikh community are at a heightened risk of hateful assault.
Navjot Pal Kaur had posted the 26-second video of the attack on January 4 on Twitter and it soon went viral. Kaur had tweeted, “This video was taken by a bystander at John F. Kennedy international Airport. I do not own the rights to this video. But I just wanted to highlight the fact that hatred continues to remain in our society and unfortunately I’ve seen Sikh cab drivers get assaulted again and again.”
Simran Jeet Singh, author and Director for the Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America Project, tweeted “Another Sikh cab driver assaulted. This one at JFK Airport in NYC. So upsetting to see. But it’s crucial that we don’t look away…What I am sure of is how painful it is to watch our fathers and elders get assaulted while they’re just trying to live an honest life.” “For those who aren’t Sikh, I can’t put into words what it means to have your turban knocked off – or to see someone else’s turban knocked off. It’s visceral and gut-wrenching and just so disheartening to witness,” Ms Singh tweeted.
India’s Consulate General in New York had termed the assault on the Sikh taxi driver as “deeply disturbing” and said it has taken up the matter with US authorities and urged them to investigate this violent incident.
The US State Department also said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the attack on the Sikh cab driver at JFK International Airport, captured on video.
“Our diversity makes the U.S. stronger, & we condemn any form of hate-based violence,” the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) had tweeted.
“We all have a responsibility to hold perpetrators of hate crimes accountable for their actions, no matter where such crimes occur,” it said in the tweet.