A 19-year-old man has been arrested and charged in connection with the April 3 attack on an elderly Sikh man in the New York borough of Queens, police announced Thursday.
The man faces charges of robbery, aggravated harassment and assault as a hate crime for allegedly punching 70-year-old Nirmal Singh, according to the deputy commissioner of public information’s office.
Singh was attacked while walking in Richmond Hill, a neighborhood also known as Little Punjab for its sizable population of Sikh and Indian immigrants. He had been visiting New York from Punjab, India, and has since returned there to be with his family, his son said in a statement provided to CNN by the Sikh Coalition.
Two more elderly Sikh men were recently attacked in the same neighborhood.
Police told CNN earlier this week that a 76-year-old and a 64-year-old were approached Tuesday morning by two men who allegedly assaulted them with their fists and a stick. The victims, who have not been publicly identified, were taken to the hospital in stable condition, police said.
One suspect in Tuesday’s incident was taken into custody, while the other was still at large as of Tuesday night, according to the NYPD. Police said the incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
“Sikhs have repeatedly faced this kind of violence – now multiple times in this same place in this month alone,” Nikki Singh, senior policy and advocacy manager for the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement this week. “As an organization that works to combat and prevent hate, we continue to stand with the Sikh community in Queens as well as all impacted New York City communities who routinely experience these hate crimes.”
Sikhs have long faced violence and discrimination
Sikhs make up the world’s fifth-largest religious community. While a majority live in the Indian state of Punjab, the diaspora spans across the globe, and more than 500,000 Sikhs are estimated to be living in the US.
Many Sikhs keep their hair uncut and neatly wrapped in a turban as a public commitment to their faith, and their distinctive appearance has made them targets of violence and discrimination.
The first Sikhs to arrive in North America came as laborers in the late 19th century, and experienced racist mob violence as part of the 1907 Bellingham riots. More recently, Sikhs were scapegoated in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and targeted in the 2012 shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Four of the eight victims killed in a mass shooting last year at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis were also Sikh, although authorities have said it did not appear that the shooter was “motivated by bias or a desire to advance an ideology.”
The recent attacks in Queens also come as New York has recently reported a spike in hate crimes, particularly against Asian Americans. The NYPD recorded 524 hate crime incidents in 2021, nearly double the 2020 count, according to a report from the department. That number was the highest reported in five years, according to police archives.