Police released video of some of the more than a dozen teens suspected of beating up a doctor Saturday evening in what the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is calling a bias attack.
Dr. Prabhjot Singh, 31, is a member of the Sikh faith, the fifth largest religion in the world. The community health expert with joint positions at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Columbia University was walking along West 110th street near Lenox Avenue with a friend when he was attacked.
“We heard ‘get Osama’ and ‘terrorist.’ I felt somebody grab my beard and hit my chin. And then minutes later I was punched a number of times,” Singh said. Medics ended up taking him to the very hospital where he works, Mt. Sinai, where some of his fellow doctors had to wire his jaw and treat him for other injuries.
Police said that a group of young men, ages 15 to 20, came up to Singh on bikes just north of Central Park.
Even though the suspects allegedly yelled slurs at Singh relating to Osama bin Laden, he isn’t Muslim, and certainly has nothing to do with terrorism. Like many Sikh men, however, he does not cut his hair or shave his beard, in keeping with traditional practices of his faith.
“My general sense was that they noticed my turban, my beard of which 99 percent of people in America who are Sikhs wear,” said Singh. “We are a distinct tradition that aims for community service and being a part of the places where we live.”
Dr. Singh, who specializes in providing affordable health care to economically challenged communities like the South Harlem neighborhood where he was attacked, said that the crime underscores two important aspects of the community. The first is the need to help young people like the ones who beat him up. “I want to make sure I live in a community,” Dr. Singh said, “where young men like that, instead of having to scream out and act out like that on a Saturday night can learn about [the Sikh faith] some other way.”
Dr. Singh, who lives in Harlem himself, also pointed out that residents of the neighborhood came to his aid, and helped to drive his attackers away. “The interveners had a critical role to play,” Singh said at a news conference arranged Monday afternoon after the requests for interviews with him became too numerous to accomodate. Singh, who, as a doctor, has handled many medical cases, said that in his own case the beating he suffered would have left him unconscious if it weren’t for neighborhood bystanders stepping in. “I’m certain that they had a role to play in that,” he said.
According to Jasjit Singh of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, people of the Sikh faith are often discriminated against.
“The community has faced many challenges. Whether it’s hate crimes, racial profiling, school bullying or employment discrimination, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a spike in the number of challenges that the members of the Sikh American community has faced.”
His organization, along with the Sikh Coalition, another Sikh civil rights group, commissioned a study this year on the freedom of Sikhs to live openly in American society. Its conclusions show that the rest of the country has a lot of tolerance to learn.
“Over 50 percent of the children in our community are bullied,” said Amardeep Singh, director of programs for the Sikh Coalition. “They’re called ‘Osama’… or ‘Taliban.'”
He encouraged the U.S. government and the American people to learn more about Sikhs and to be more open minded.
Meanwhile, police encourage anyone with information about the Saturday evening attack to contact them at this link https://a056-crimestoppers.nyc.gov/crimestoppers/public/tip-form.cfm, or to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477).