Sikh professor attacked in possible hate crime in US, assailants called him Osama

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School of International and Public Affairs professor Prabhjot Singh was assaulted on Saturday night. (Reuters) School of International and Public Affairs professor Prabhjot Singh was assaulted on Saturday night. (Reuters)
SummaryThe Columbia University Sikh professor was called 'Osama' and 'terrorist' by attackers.

A Sikh professor at Columbia University was attacked and injured by a mob of up to 30 people who called him “Osama” and “terrorist” during a brutal assault which the police is investigating as a hate crime. School of International and Public Affairs professor Prabhjot Singh was assaulted on Saturday night while walking in the Harlem neighbourhood near here.

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“There was a group of 25 to 30 young men. One of them said, ‘Get him, Osama’,” 31-year-old Singh, who suffered a fractured jaw, was quoted as saying by the New York Daily News. “I got punched directly in the face about three times.”

Singh said he was on the ground being kicked when passers-by intervened, saving him. “I’m grateful to them,” said Singh, who is married and has a young son. “It could have been a lot worse.” Singh had returned from dinner, dropping his wife and one-year-old son at home before going for a walk.

While being attacked, he saw one of the assailants put his arm inside his coat as if reaching for a gun. Singh was unable to provide any descriptions about his assailants to police. Singh told police that his assailants taunted him and beat him, calling him “Osama” and “terrorist” as they pulled at his long beard.

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“It’s incredibly sad,” Singh said. “It’s not the neighbourhood I know. I work in this community. It’s just not American. It’s important that they are caught and be held responsible for what they did,” he said.

Singh reiterated that it was more crucial for people to understand that Sikhs are peaceful and should not be confused with radical Islamics. “I’ve written about this in the past. But it’s one thing to go from writing about something to receiving an assault. It’s scary,” he said.

Singh has been discharged from hospital and met with officials from the New York Police Department Hate Crime Task Force, who are probing the incident as a hate crime.

In an online post, Singh’s friend Simran Jeet Singh, who is a doctoral candidate in religion at Columbia, said he had been “brutally attacked” on the street and had been rushed to the hospital “bloody and bruised, his face swollen from a fractured jaw.”

The young professor could not speak because many of his teeth had been displaced, Jeet Singh said in the post ‘Hate hits home: when my friend became a target’ published on the HuffPost website.

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“Last night, I received the kind of phone call that everyone dreads: a close friend was hurt, and on his way to the hospital. But the news got worse, as I learned that my friend, Dr Prabhjot Singh, a young Sikh-American professor at Columbia University, had been brutally attacked on a public street, the victim of a violent hate crime,” the post said.

Jeet Singh described the young professor as someone who has “dedicated his life to serving the underserved.” Prabhjot Singh is currently the Director of Systems Management at the Earth Institute, and “draws upon his experiences abroad to help improve the health of local communities like Harlem,” Jeet Singh said.

Prabhjot Singh is also a resident physician at a leading New York hospital. “Unfortunately his assailants did not see Prabhjot Singh, the professor, the community health expert or the local doctor. They saw a man wearing a beard and a turban — his articles of faith — and saw a target. Sadly, for many other Sikh-Americans like Prabhjot, this is a story they have heard and experienced before,” Jeet Singh said in his online post.

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