A Sikh American man says he was taunted as a “terrorist” and “bin Laden” by another driver this week, and then beaten unconscious in his car. Police in the Chicago suburb of Darien are investigating the alleged incident as a hate crime and a road rage incident that escalated into a violent attack, Chief Ernest Brown said.
Inderjit Singh Mukker, a 53-year-old cab driver and father of two who lives in Darien, was driving his car to a grocery store on Tuesday when a driver repeatedly cut him off and shouted epithets such as, “Terrorist, go back to your country, bin Laden!” according to the New York–based Sikh Coalition, which is representing Mukker in the case.
Mukker, a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country for 27 years, alleges that the driver then got out and began to attack him. The Sikh Coalition said that the driver was white, and that Mukker was repeatedly punched in the face, fracturing his cheekbone and causing him to lose consciousness. He was released from the hospital on Wednesday.
Police said the alleged assailant, who is a minor, attacked Mukker through the window of his car. The boy is in a hospital being treated for a condition unrelated to the incident, and police will later detain him, Brown said.
“We believe Mr. Mukker was targeted and assaulted because of his Sikh religious appearance, race or national origin,” said Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, in a news release. “We request an immediate investigation and call on local and federal agencies to investigate this attack as a hate crime.”
“No American should be afraid to practice their faith in our country,” Mukker said in the news release.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion followed by 25 million people, and is mainly practiced in India. Observant Sikhs wear beards and do not cut their hair, believing that people should accept their body in its natural state. They wrap their long hair into a turban, a visible symbol of their faith that sometimes causes them to be confused with Muslims, some of whom also wear turbans.
Sikh Americans have been targets of slurs and hate violence following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, perhaps based on this misinterpretation. The Sikh Coalition was launched after 9/11, after a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona was shot dead by a man who said he “wanted to kill a Muslim.” In the next six years, some 800 bias incidents against Sikhs, Muslims and other South Asian groups were reported to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Sikh Coalition reported 140 anti-Sikh hate crimes between 2001 and 2012.
In 2012, a U.S. Army veteran with ties to white supremacist groups burst into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, shooting dead six people. Before the June 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which left nine people dead, the Oak Creek shooting was the deadliest attack on a place of worship in the United States since the 1963 church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama.
Advocates expressed dismay that the attack may have been bias-based, particularly since it took place just days before the 9/11 anniversary.
“Fourteen years have passed and nothing has changed,” said Anisha Singh, campaign manager for legal progress at the Washington-based Center for American Progress. “We are still seeing attacks on Sikhs, mostly due to misconceptions.”