American Sikhs Ask FBI to Investigate Fresno Beating as Hate Crime

American Sikhs Ask FBI to Investigate Fresno Beating as Hate Crime

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The newly-formed American Sikh Congressional Caucus is pushing the FBI to investigate as a hate crime the May 5 brutal beating of an elderly Sikh American, who suffered a coma after repeatedly being struck by an iron rod by a young man who allegedly said to police that he hated all Sikhs and was planning to bomb a temple.

According to family members, 82-year-old Piara Singh was outside the Guru Nanaksar gurdwara May 5, waiting for a ride home, after a volunteer stint of washing dishes for four hours at the temple.

Gilbert Garcia, a 29-year-old transient, allegedly rode by on a bicycle and began beating the elderly man with an iron rod, until Singh collapsed. The Sikh American was taken to a hospital to receive medical attention for broken bones in his legs, cheeks and jaws. He spent two days in a coma, and received 20 sutures in the head.

“He kept on hitting me, hitting me a lot. He did not say anything, I did not say anything, but he kept beating me,” Singh told local Action 30 news through an interpreter. “I was drenched in blood and losing consciousness,” he said.

Garcia told arresting officers that he hated all Sikhs and had plans to blow up a temple, Action 30 reported.

The Fresno Police Department is not releasing copies of Garcia’s intake report. Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition told India-West that government regulation 6254F allows the media and the public access to 80 percent of a police intake report, which is created when a suspect is arrested.

Garcia’s intake report is particularly important in determining whether his attack on Singh could be classified as a hate crime because of the alleged comments he made to police during his arrest.

Fresno Police Department Officer Jaime Rios told India-West that Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer had mandated no copies of the report be released, to prevent panic in the local Sikh community. Rios would not comment on what Garcia had told police during his arrest.

At a May 7 press conference at the Guru Nanaksar temple, Dyer told the packed room: “Mr. Singh was targeted because of who he was, what he was wearing, his ethnicity, his religion.”

The police chief characterized the attack as a lone incident. “What we don’t want is people becoming fearful and paranoid, because if we do, they win.”

“But we do want people to be aware that there are people out there who may want to hurt them,” he added.

Garcia – the lone suspect in the attack – has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, elder abuse and bias-motivated crime. He is in custody and is due back in court May 28.

Herman Sihota, a grand-nephew of the victim told India-West that Piara Singh was released from the hospital and is in home care. “He is pretty much bed-ridden and really shaken up,” said Sihota, who was born and raised in Fresno. “Prior to this, he had no physical health problems, but we’re seeing some new things now,” Sihota said.

“There is an air of fear now as we walk around in our community because we know that (attacks) can happen and they did happen,” said Sihota, noting that he knows of many similar crimes that have gone unreported. Also prevalent is school bullying of Sikh children, regardless of whether or not they wear a patka – small turban.

“We’ve been here for 100 years but people still don’t know who we are,” stated Sihota.

Reps. Judy Chu and David Valadao, co-chairs of the newly formed American Sikh Coalition, denounced the attack on Singh.

“My heart broke when I heard about suspected hate crime on Piara Singh, an elderly Sikh man dedicated to his faith and his community. He was doing what he did every day, volunteering at his gurdwara, when a man viciously attacked him,” said Chu in a press statement.

“We must combat the growing wave of violence and intolerance that threatens the safety and civil liberties of all Americans, including the Sikh American community. That is why I have pushed the FBI to finally begin tracking hate crimes against the American Sikh community,” she said.

Valadao, who represents portions of the Central Valley in Congress, said in a press statement: “Heartbreaking events such as this highlight deep societal problems, specifically what I believe is a general disregard for human life that has unfortunately become prevalent in our society.”

California’s largely agrarian Central Valley is home to more than 25,000 Sikh Americans.