More than a hundred Sikhs from Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and surrounding neighborhoods gathered Tuesday morning to demand justice for one of their own, who was nearly killed in a hit-and-run accident last week many believe was yet another hate crime perpetrated against their community.
Sandeep Singh, 29, was standing outside his office at 99th Street and 101st Avenue in Ozone Park shortly after midnight last Wednesday when an altercation occurred between him and a man driving a white pickup truck. According to a witness who was at the scene, the driver began yelling racial slurs, called Singh “a terrorist” and told him “to go back to your country.”
Singh then allegedly stood in front of the truck to keep the man from leaving while a friend called the police, but the driver ran over Singh, dragging him about 30 feet eastbound on 101st Avenue. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he remains, recovering from back and abdominal injuries.
Elected officials and Singh’s wife and brother spoke to the press at the rally Tuesday, calling on the perpetrator to be found, brought to justice, and again seeking understanding of Sikhs.
“My husband is strong,” said Prabhpreet Kaur, Singh’s wife. “He fought for his life and with God’s grace, he will survive.”
Kaur said her husband told her that the perpetrator used racial and ethnic slurs against him — even referring to him as “bin Laden” — and she believed the incident to be a hate crime. She read a statement from Singh in which he said he was attacked for his religion and wanted to see justice served “so no one else goes through what I have been through.”
Officials decried the incident.
“This community shouldn’t have the label as the place of a hate crime,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), who represents this section of Ozone Park.
Richmond Hill is home to the largest Sikh community in the United States, and that population has began to seep into adjacent Ozone Park. Though incidents like last week’s are not common, the changing demographics of the neighborhood starting in the late 1980s from a mostly white Italian and Irish population to one that included South Asians and West Indians has not been entirely smooth.
The new arrivals have often found themselves victims of racial and ethnic discrimination, though nothing to the extent of what Singh allegedly faced last week.
The hit and run occurred just feet from the former Bergen Hunt and Fish Club, the notorious club frequented by mob boss John Gotti, who despite his conviction for murder and racketeering, held almost heroic stature in Ozone Park’s Italian-American community. The building on the corner of 101st Avenue and 99th Street, in front of where the incident took place, was recently sold. Previously, it was known during the 1980s through late 2000s for the Italian flags — and an American flag donning Gotti’s face — that was often draped from the fire escape. Now, a sign declaring the building “sold” by a realtor of Indian descent has been placed where the flag once was.
It was noted at the rally, during which some residents of other ethnic backgrounds walking by scoffed, was held two years after a man gunned down six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in a hate crime.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who represents a large Sikh community, said he had “full confidence” that the NYPD will investigate the case thoroughly.
An NYPD source said cops were looking for the vehicle, a GMC Sierra 1500 truck, model year 2007 to 2009. The source emphasized that they had no description of the suspect and did not know his race or ethnicity.
The Sikh community in South Queens has close ties with the 102nd Precinct, but has quarreled with the NYPD in the past over its uniform policy that did not allow Sikh officers to wear turbans.
Sikh leaders met with police at the precinct house on Monday. Some expressed frustration at the speed of the investigation. Many wanted it to be labeled a hate crime, and noted that their brothers and sisters have repeatedly been the target of bias attacks, especially since 9/11 and mainly due to their long beards and turbans giving the erroneous impression that they are Muslim.
“Sandeep is very fortunate to be alive, but we want more law enforcement resources devoted to finding the hate attacker,” said Amardeep Singh, program director for the Sikh Coalition. “Given that this attack was preceded by racial and religious slurs, it is an attack not only on Sandeep but also on the whole Sikh community. We call on the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI to work with the NYPD to investigate it as a hate crime.”