1 held for attack on 2 Sikhs in NY’s Richmond Hills; hate crime, say police

Ritu Jha-

Less than two weeks after an elderly Sikh man was attacked in Richmond Hills, New York, two Sikh senior citizens were attacked in the same neighborhood. Police said the attack is being treated as a robbery and a hate crime.

A New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesperson told indica the attack took place at 7am Tuesday, April 12, when police received a phone call about the ongoing incident.

Two Sikh men, aged 76 and 64, were approached by two men who struck them on their heads with fists and a wooden staff, removed their turbans and stole some money.

Asked if there had been any verbal exchange prior to the attack, the spokesperson said, “No words were exchanged. It was an unprovoked attack. The attackers removed their religious headgear.”

Police have arrested a suspect, a 20-year-old named Hezekiah Coleman, and charged him with two counts of hate crime, one count of robbery, one count of assault and one count of harassment.

The victims were taken to the nearby Jamaica Hospital and treated for minor injuries.

India’s consulate in New York condemned the attack and called it deplorable in a statement Wednesday. “We have approached the local authorities and New York City police in the matter,” the consulate said. “Understand police complaint filed and one person arrested. We are in touch with community members. Ready to offer all assistance to the victims.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar said in a statement that there is “zero tolerance” for hate crimes against Sikh Americans in New York State. “As the first Punjabi American elected to New York State office, I am here to say in unequivocal terms that there is zero tolerance for hate crimes against the Sikh American community in New York State,” she said.

The assemblywoman called for both attacks to be investigated as hate crimes and to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. “I spoke to the NYPD soon after both the incidents against my Sikh American family,” she said.

Rajkumar said there had been an alarming 200 percent rise in hate crimes against Sikhs in recent years. “I passed a historic resolution whereby New York State recognizes April as Punjabi Month,” she said in her statement. “We will educate all on Sikh culture so everyone knows, as I do, the generosity and kindness embedded in the Sikh American community. And together with my partners in Congress and the Mayor, we will give law enforcement the tools they need to fully investigate and prosecute these crimes of bias.”

Nirmal Singh, 70, was attacked by an unidentified person April 3 just two blocks away from the Sikh Cultural Society, Richmond Hill, gurdwara, where the Canadian Sikh was staying. He was in New York to attended the annual Sikh parade hosted by the cultural society.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which has released amended 2020 hate crime statistics, 61.9 percent of victims of hate crimes were targeted because of race, ethnicity or ancestry while 13.4 percent were targeted because of religious bias.

Last year saw a 6.1 percent increase in hate crime reports. The FBI data gathered on anti-Sikh bias crimes shows that hate crimes against the community have increased by 44.9 percent since 2019. The 2019 statistics include 56 reported anti-Sikh offenses. In 2020, this number jumped to 72.