A sheriff’s office in Illinois is investigating an assault on an Uber driver that appears to have been based on the driver’s ethnicity or religion.
The driver, Gurjeet Singh, is a religious leader at a local Sikh temple and wears the traditional turban and long beard of men in the Sikh faith, a monotheistic religion from India.
Sikh men in America, repeatedly mistaken for Muslims because of their appearance, have been the victims of numerous hate crimes – including a man murdered immediately after 9/11 by an assailant who said he thought his victim was Arab, and six members of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin killed in a mass shooting.
In this case, the advocacy organization Sikh Coalition says that the passenger pulled a gun on the driver and said, “I hate turban people. I hate beard people.”
Leaders of the organization expressed frustration Wednesday after meeting with Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos, that the passenger has not been arrested since the attack, which the driver reported to police on Jan. 29, the day after it occurred. Bustos told The Washington Post that he expects to charge the suspect with aggravated assault and perhaps further charges by week’s end, after he receives information that the sheriff’s office has requested from Uber through a search warrant.
Investigators have interviewed the driver, the suspect and another passenger who was in the car, Bustos said.
He said that the driver picked up the two passengers together in Moline, Illinois, about 11 p.m. and began to drive them toward their destination in Milan, Illinois. The male passenger and the driver got into an argument, he said.
Bustos said he couldn’t disclose the details of the argument while the investigation is underway. “The argument was about where people’s loyalties lie. There was an argument over where people were from,” he said.
The Sikh Coalition said that the male passenger started asking Singh, the driver, a series of questions: “What is your status here? Which country do you belong to? Do you serve your country or do you serve our country?”
The organization said that Singh, a legal U.S. resident who does not speak fluent English, said he serves the United States and India, because his parents live there. Then, Singh said, the passenger put a gun to his head and said he hated “turban people.”
Singh stopped the car. The organization said that the passenger’s female companion then forced him out of the car, and told Singh to drive away. “She apologized and said, ‘I’m sorry, he shouldn’t have said that to you,’ ” said Amrith Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director.
Kaur, who said she was a prosecutor for 11 years in Cook County, Illinois, said the local Sikh community is ill at ease that Singh’s passenger has not yet been arrested.
“If you say you hate turban people and you say you hate beard people and you put a gun to their head, that is a textbook hate crime,” she said. “The problem of hatred in our communities is outrageous. Since 9/11, the Sikh community has experienced such violence in America. . . . The fact that in 2018, it’s scary to be brown in America is completely unacceptable. People need to understand, this isn’t just an attack on an individual.”
The sheriff said he’s heard those fears. “We’re hoping to bring this case to resolution, certainly, for the Sikh community as quickly as possible, because I know they’re concerned,” Bustos said. “The moment we are able to file a criminal charge, we absolutely will.”