Authorities in New York arrested and charged a man with a hate crime on Jan. 14 in connection to a Jan. 3 incident. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD) officials confirmed that 21-year-old Mohamed Hassanain was arrested for attacking a Sikh taxi driver at JFK International Airport. The incident is considered a hate crime because Hassanain shouted “Go back to your country!” but called the driver “turbaned people” in a derogatory manner while repeatedly attacking him.
According to the criminal complaint filed by the Queens District Attorney’s Office Hassanain allegedly hit the victim in the face and body multiple times. He told investigators that he was at the airport to pick up his girlfriend when “I saw a cab driver there who cursed at me. I threw a punch and cursed at him.”
During the alleged attack, the driver’s turban fell off. The turban is an important aspect of the Sikh identity. According to the Associated Press, it is a symbol of a Sikh’s spiritual strength. Hassanain is charged with assault in the third degree as a hate crime, assault in the third degree, and aggravated harassment in the second degree.
“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,” Simran Jeet Singh, senior fellow for the Sikh Coalition, said in a tweet a day after the alleged incident. “It’s visceral and gut-wrenching and just so disheartening to witness,” the tweet continued.
According to the Sikh Coalition, the taxi driver in question has requested to remain anonymous; thus, video footage of the attack is not being shared. Reports have identified the driver only as “Mr. Singh” to preserve his anonymity.
“I am thankful to law enforcement, the Sikh Coalition, and all those in the community who have offered their strength in this difficult time. 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,” Mr. Singh said in a statement shared with the Sikh Coalition.
The Sikh Coalition also issued a statement acknowledging the arrest.
“We are grateful to the Port Authority Police Department and Queens District Attorney’s Office for their prompt action on this case, and for recognizing that the attack on Mr. Singh included clear anti-Sikh bias,” Amrith Kaur Aakre, Sikh Coalition Legal Director said in a statement. “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.”
According to CNN, Hassanain’s next court appearance is scheduled for Mar. 8.
A Sikh Coalition analysis of FBI data last year found that anti-Sikh hate crimes in 2020 were at their highest reported level since they were first tracked in 2015. Additionally, hate crimes across the country against all people of color have seen the highest increase this year.
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