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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sikh community reacts to men accused of taking turban from truck driver

Members of the Sikh community are speaking out after three Douglas County men allegedly pulled a turban off a truck driver's head and drove off with it.

"There was basically a guy who stopped me and said I'm looking for a rag head to kill," said Eugene resident Pami Singh.

Singh says he's experienced hate before and blames it in on ignorance.

"We were essentially asked to not cut our hair and keep it in a turban," said Singh.

The local engineer is of the Sikh faith and says since 9-11, he's seen more people who aren't as accepting of his culture.

"There are very good people and there are some that don't understand," said Singh.

Last August, a Sikh truck driver went to a truck stop convenience store, where three men grabbed the turban from his head, ran around the building and into their car. Thanks to video surveillance, police were able to catch up with the group and arrest them.

A Douglas County jury indicted three Yoncalla residents for that crime on misdemeanor charges of theft and harassment, but not on the felony charge of intimidation.

"It's the same thing as going up to a woman and pulling her shirt off," said Eugene resident Sarib Khalsa.

Khalsa is also Sikh. He says the Yoncalla incident should be considered a hate crime.

"A turban to a Sikh is part of their identity. Historically even touching someone's turban is a huge insult," said Khalsa.

Oregon law classifies hate crimes as "intimidation" and defines the act as tampering or interfering with property, and causing substantial inconvenience to another because of the person's race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

So what can be done? One Sikh doctor living in Eugene says plenty.

"Education is the key to get rid of biases," said Jaswinder Kaur.
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