The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Columbia University Professor, a Sikh Physician, Injured in Teen Mob Attack

By Don Terry on September 23, 2013 - 1:40 pm, Posted in Hate Crime

Shortly after a white supremacist stormed into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and killed six worshipers last year, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh-American physician and assistant professor of international affairs at Columbia University, co-wrote a column for The New York Times noting the “long history of discrimination and hatred directed at Sikhs in America.”

On Saturday night, on the edge of Harlem, Singh became a victim of the hatred and violence.

As he strolled down the street with a friend near 110th and Lenox at about 8 p.m., a band of up to 20 teenagers on bicycles surrounded Singh, shouting “terrorist” and “get Osama.”

Then, according to the Daily News and the Sikh Coalition, the teens began punching and kicking Singh, who wears a turban and beard in adherence to his Sikh faith. As Singh tried to escape, the teenagers chased him down the street, throwing punches and slurs, apparently mistaking him for a Muslim. 

Singh, according to the Sikh Coalition, suffered displaced teeth, severe bruising and swelling, a small puncture in his elbow and a possible fracture in his lower jaw. “It could have been worse,” Amardeep Singh, program director for the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group based in New York, told Hatewatch today. “Luckily, there were a lot of people of good will, who intervened.”

Amardeep Singh said several passersby physically tried to intervene, while others yelled at the teenagers that they had called the police.

Singh was taken by ambulance to Mt. Sinai hospital, where he is a resident physician. He was treated and released. He was scheduled to give a news conference in New York this afternoon.

The band of teenagers was reported to be mostly black, but Amardeep Singh said that both the Sikh Coalition and “the victim” – Dr. Singh – declined to answer questions about the race of the attackers.

“It’s not helpful,” Amardeep Singh told Hatewatch. “We don’t think it’s helpful in reducing racial tensions. We’re trying to get the country to live up to its best values. We’re a community that is profiled. There’s no reason for us to profile anyone.”

He said, for that reason, Dr. Singh was reluctant to cooperate with police sketch artists.

“There’s no real identifiable information,” Amardeep Singh said. “It was a sudden and intense attack. He was just trying to make sure he wasn’t injured further.”

“Race is not relevant,” he said. “What is relevant is for whatever reason they had hate in their hearts and acted on it.”

In a press release about the attack on Dr. Singh, the Sikh Coalition said the incident came less than two weeks after the first-ever nationwide public perception assessment of Sikh Americans, titled “Turban Myths.” That survey shows that 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers – like Dr. Singh – in the U.S. as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto. Nearly all turban-wearers in the U.S. adhere to Sikhism.

“What happened” on Saturday night, Amardeep Singh said in the Coalition statement, “did not happen in a vacuum. Here in New York City we regularly receive reports that Sikh schoolchildren are called ‘Bin Laden’ or ‘terrorist’ by classmates and sometimes endure physical violence.”

And when they grow up to be professors and physicians, the violence still follows them down the street.

  • HTC

    “Possibly a prominent Sikh emblem of the turban that they could point to could halt an attack. Muslims normally look like everyone else so are in less danger from xenophobes and other morons.”

    I must be getting something wrong here – are you saying Its OK to beat up anyone who looks (!) like a muslim and doesn’t wear a disclaimer claiming he is not?

  • JML

    “Race is not relevant,” he said. “What is relevant is for whatever reason they had hate in their hearts and acted on it.” Except he was eager to discuss white supremacists. So maybe race is only relevant if they are white? I’m sorry a band of mostly black teenagers attacked him, and I’m sorry a white supremacist commited murder. I’m also sorry that Dr. Singh is only partially color blind.

  • Sam Molloy

    I meant to type, an emblem ON the turban. Obviously the root cause is ignorance and intolerance. But, it may help, if they can read.

  • aadila

    Christine, beautiful thoughts. I like to think that love, understanding, etc., are all permanent things and always present everywhere. The discrimination and hatred in the world are like clouds that obscure the fundamental truths, but never take their place. I’ve seen green sprouts spring up in the most dismal of places. Why should the human spirit be any different, when we occupy the same reality? We’re just passing through this world. I wish people would cease trying to make it theirs and just make the best of it, preserving it for others who follow.

  • http://www.novantracism.com ron virmani, M.D.

    Discrimination is everywhere. In US, in India etc. While the teenagers attacking the poor Sikh physician were relatively uneducated but hot-blooded youth, well educated MD’s ganged up against me and destroyed my career in the South
    http://www.novantracism.com

  • concernedcitizen

    As Singh tried to escape, the teenagers chased him down the street, throwing punches and slurs, apparently mistaking him for a Muslim.

    They shouldn’t have been doing this to anyone regardless of their religious beliefs. That is not the American way. It is the way of terrorists and street thugs.

    And this just points out how important education is otherwise an uneducated mind can be molded to believe all sorts of distortions about reality, such as every one who wears a turban is a terrorist.

    What a real shame and a disgrace to our nation that this man would face such a horrible crime in a nation such as ours, when we boast how advanced we are…

    We need advancement in evolving spiritually and civilly.

  • Gregory

    Sam,
    The turban IS the emblem. It doesn’t need a badge.

  • Christine

    It pains me every time I hear such stories. Having been a victim of discrimination practically my entire life, I must say I also don’t share Mr. Molloy’s optimism. However, I pray that someday, even if not in my life time discrimination and hatred in all it’s forms will be replaced by love, understanding, tolerance and respect for human life.

  • Reynardine

    No, they wouldn’t. They’d think Sikh is what kids are the day after Halloween.

  • Proud Norwegian

    “Possibly a prominent Sikh emblem of the turban that they could point to could halt an attack.”

    Mr. Molloy, I don’t share your optimism. Most probably attackers like this wouldn’t have any idea of what a Sikh is anyway.

  • Sam Molloy

    This is not his fault, and trial by teens is an old danger to the LGBT community. Possibly a prominent Sikh emblem of the turban that they could point to could halt an attack. Muslims normally look like everyone else so are in less danger from xenophobes and other morons.

  • Reynardine

    The only sorrier thing than a violent bigot is a dumb violent bigot.