A leading U.S. Islamic organization on Tuesday voiced concern that a college student accused of assaulting a Muslim woman over the weekend was being let off with a light penalty and said that the incident fits a pattern of similar attacks targeting Muslims across the country.
Triceten Bickford, 19, a sophomore at Indiana University, faces charges — including intimidation, strangulation and battery — for a drunken attack on a Muslim woman on Saturday at a Turkish cafe in Bloomington. During the attack, he apparently tried to remove the woman’s headscarf and shouted racial slurs.
Bickford was arrested and released after paying $705 in bond and other fees.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that the low bond suggests authorities aren't taking the attack seriously and that CAIR wants "prosecutors to apply the full weight of the law."
Indiana does not have a law that allows prosecutors to charge suspects with hate crimes, local news channel WTHR reported. However, the FBI could bring such charges against Bickford.
Indiana University also said it was conducting its own investigation into the case.
During the attack, Bickford allegedly shouted “white power” and “kill them all.” He then grabbed the woman by her headscarf, tried to pull it off and slammed her head onto a cafe table, WTHR reported, citing police.
“I found him at my neck, like pushing me down, squeezing my neck and putting my head to the table,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told WTHR. She reported neck pain after the attack but did not seek medical care.
“That never happened in my life. He pulled my scarf off, and if I didn’t grab his hands, he could have killed me," said the woman, a Turkish immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years.
The woman’s husband, who witnessed the attack, rushed to help her, grabbing the alleged assailant and pushing him against the ground. Bickford spat at the husband and another man who helped restrain Bickford until police arrived.
His blood alcohol level was 0.19, WTHR reported, citing police. That’s twice the legal limit for driving in Indiana.
Reached by WTHR, Bickford said he was “so sorry” for the assault but that he has no memory of the attack, blaming a combination of alcohol and going without his anti-anxiety medication for the episode.
“I’m so sorry to that woman. I have no idea who she is, but words can’t explain how much that — I’ve never hurt someone like that before,” he told the station. “They’re making me out to be a monster. I’m just a normal person … That’s not who I am. I’m not a hateful person. I love people … I don’t know where that came from.”
Hooper said the attack reflects “a tremendous spike in the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in our society and increasingly violent hate rhetoric” in recent years.
In an August report, “Toxic Hate,” CAIR said violent rhetoric aimed at Muslims has taken on a “more violent tone” than before. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crimes Reports program, the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims today is roughly five times the level before 9/11.
Al Jazeera and wire services