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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oregon Fails to Indict Turban Attackers with a Hate Crime

Three Oregon men who attacked a Sikh trucker and ripped a turban off his head, will not be charged with a hate crime. A Douglas County, Oregon grand jury declined to indict three men. The Sikh Coalition calls the matter disappointing.

The Coalition says they learned yesterday that the grand jury instead chose to indict the men on the lesser charges of harassment and theft in the third degree.

"Burning a cross on an African American's lawn is not a mere act of vandalism, and stealing a Sikh's turban is not a misdemeanor theft. They are both hate crimes," said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition.

On August 5th 2007, Ranjit Singh was leaving a convenience store at a truck stop in Oakland, Oregon. As he was leaving the store, three men approached him and tore off his turban. The assailants immediately drove away in two separate cars.

On September 6th 2007, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office arrested three men in connection with the assault. The Douglas County District Attorney decided to pursue hate crime charges against the attackers.

This week the Grand Jury decided that there was not enough evidence to move forward with a hate crime prosecution. The Grand Jury therefore charged the attackers with misdemeanor theft and harassment, but not a felony hate crime.

While the Sikh Coalition is thankful that the Douglas County District Attorney's office pursued hate crime charges against the attackers, they say they are disappointed that the Grand Jury did not move forward with a hate crime indictment.

"We are also disturbed that the dollar value of Ranjit Singh's turban arose as an issue during the Grand Jury proceeding as a means of determining the degree of theft the attackers would be charged with. The turban is a priceless article of faith for Sikhs. Sikhs throughout history have chosen death over removing their turbans since it encapsulates a Sikh's commitment to their faith."

"I am disappointed in the Grand Jury's decision. The turban is not a hat... They asked me about the cost -- my turban is priceless," said victim Ranjit Singh.

"It is clear from our perspective that the Grand Jury completely misunderstood what's at stake here," said Amardeep Singh. "Stealing a Sikh's turban is not a matter of mere theft, it is a hate crime that injures the entire community."

The Sikh Coalition calls on the Douglas County District Attorney's office to disallow the attackers to plea down the current misdemeanor charges. The Coalition also calls on the federal government to investigate charging these attackers with hate crimes under federal law. [Link]

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