Tensions Flare Between Queens Sikhs and NYPD After Racially Motivated Hit and Run

The driver dragged Sandeep Singh's body 30 feet.
The driver dragged Sandeep Singh's body 30 feet.
Security still courtesy of the Sikh Coalition

It was shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Sandeep Singh and three of his friends were crossing 99th Street at 101 Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens when they crossed paths with a man in a pick-up truck. Witnesses say the driver called Singh a "terrorist," and yelled at him to "go back to your country." Singh, a Sikh, stood in the truck's path to keep the driver from leaving while his friends called the police, but the driver gassed his pick-up into Singh, hitting the 29-year-old and dragging him some 30 feet before he came loose.

A week later, Singh, a father of two children and owner of a construction business, is still in the hospital. "He clung to the bottom of the pick up truck, so most of his injuries are along his back and his side," says Amardeep Singh, director of programs for the Sikh Coalition. At this point, he's had between 20 and 30 stitches, and Amardeep Singh says he will likely need a skin graft as well.

The driver, meanwhile, remains at large. The incident was captured by multiple security cameras and while investigators have been able to determine the make and model of the truck, they've had no luck turning up a license plate number, and none of the witnesses have been able to identify the driver through police photos.

"There's a lot of outrage in the community. It's a tightly knit Sikh community and they've experienced a lot of hate crimes," Amardeep Singh says. "There is this frustration about lack of action [on the part of the NYPD]."

Members of the Queens Sikh community, Singh says, feel the police are not doing enough to address this crime in particular, and crime against Sikhs in Richmond Hill, generally.

Twelve leaders of the Sikh community, including the presidents of two major houses of worship in Richmond Hill as well as representatives from the Sikh Coalition, met with the commander of the 102 precinct yesterday at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice's community relations service.

In addition to hate crimes, Sikh leaders cited experiences being robbed, mugged or physically attacked that they feel have not been adequately investigated by local police.

"There's a sense that there is a real apathy in the 102 percent in Richmond Hill, as it applies to this community," Singh says.

That feeling is compounded by the fact, that the NYPD--unlike police forces in London, Toronto and Washington D.C.--prohibits officers from wearing turbans, a rule that prevents observant Sikhs from serving in the police force.

"When these hate incidences occur, the community wants action from the police, and in the back of our minds is the fact that we can't even serve in the police," Singh says, noting that Sikhs are inclined to police and military service: they account for less than two percent of India's population, but more than 20 percent of its army.

Sikh leaders, Singh says, left yesterday's meeting so frustrated they organized a rally for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning--incidentally the two year anniversary of the massacre at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin--at intersection where Sandeep Singh was run over.

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