A man has been charged with hate crimes after two Sikh men were assaulted, robbed and had their turbans ripped off in Queens, New York, this week.
Hezekiah Coleman, 20, was taken into custody at the scene of the Tuesday attack as a person of interest before he was charged with two counts of robbery as a hate crime, robbery, assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment, the New York City Police Department said.
The attack unfolded around 7 a.m. at 95th Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard in the Richmond Hill section of Queens, the same intersection where Nirmal Singh, a 70-year-old man visiting from India, was brutally beaten during a walk last week.
Police responded to a call of an assault and found two Sikh men, 76 and 64, with minor injuries to the head and body, officials said.
It is believed that the victims were approached by two unknown men who struck them in the head and body “with closed fists and a wooden stick,” police said.
The attackers then removed the victims’ religious headwear and took money from them, according to police.
The victims were stable when they were taken a hospital.
A lawyer for Coleman could not be immediately reached for comment. Police are still looking for the second suspect.
Activists decried the attacks at a rally held Wednesday in Queens with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to address the rise in hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the Big Apple.
Sikh Americans say they have faced “invisible” racism for years. According to FBI data, there was a 68 percent increase in anti-Sikh hate crimes from 2019 to 2020, most of them committed by white people.
“Sikhs are no strangers to hate violence, but the recent string of repeated attacks in the same location is especially disheartening and reprehensible,” Nikki Singh, a senior policy and advocacy manager at the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement. “We continue to stand with all communities who continue to experience this kind of trauma. Targeted hate violence affects us all — not just those who experience it firsthand.”
As for Nirmal Singh, the Sikh Coalition told NBC News that he returned home to India over the weekend to be with his family.
One of his sons, Manjit Singh, said in a statement: “Our family is overwhelmed and grateful for the amount of support my father received after this horrible assault.”
“We are hopeful that a suspect will be arrested, because we see this as an attack on all who wear turbans and other articles of faith — and even though my father has left New York, we will do everything we can to continue helping the investigation,” he added.
The NYPD probe into the assault on Nirmal Singh will continue in his absence.
Sakshi Venkatraman contributed.