A postal worker arrested on hate crime charges had allegedly bumped into and spat on a Muslim woman before following her into a deli and threatening to burn down her place of worship, New York City police said.
Dainton Coley, 34, was still wearing his Postal Service uniform when he was led out of a police precinct in handcuffs Tuesday night. He held his head down and said nothing as officers escorted him to a waiting police car.
Police said he approached two women who were wearing hijabs on a sidewalk in Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood around 8 p.m. Friday.
Coley bumped into a 30-year-old woman who was pushing her infant in a stroller before he began shouting racial epithets and spit on her, police said.
The two women ran off, but Coley chased them and followed them into a deli on the same block, police said.
Coley then followed them around the store, screaming obscenities, and told the woman he was going to burn down her place of worship, authorities said.
The incident occurred against a nationwide outbreak of Islamophobic acts and anti-Muslim rhetoric, such as GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson saying Muslims are unfit to be president of the United States and his fellow frontrunner, Donald Trump, suggesting President Barack Obama might be a Muslim. And a 2014 Pew Research Institute poll found that Muslims were rated most negatively of all religious groups in the U.S., receiving an average score of 40 out of 100 on a “feeling thermometer.” The only other groups to receive below a “neutral” score of 50 were Mormons, at 48, and atheists, at 41.
Members of the Postal Police helped New York city police identify Coley, according to The N.Y. Daily News.
Coley was awaiting arraignment late Tuesday on charges of aggravated harassment based on race or religion, menacing as a hate crime and child endangerment. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney who could comment on the accusations.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the charges.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press