The rights of all citizens must be protected from violent attacks and other unjustified personal intrusions. At the same time, a defendant must be guaranteed the presumption of innocence to help prevent against ill-conceived prosecutions. In New York and elsewhere, there is a history of hate crimes against Sikhs, who are members of a religious sect from India. One 20-year-old man was recently arrested in New York and faces felony charges in the nature of hate crimes against a Sikh professor at Columbia University.
The pattern of prejudice and violence against Sikhs is apparently caused by nothing more than their appearance. They are required to wear turbans and not shave as part of their religion. Sects from all major religions can be found who do not shave facial hair.
Turbans are worn in many Asian countries and have little in common with the head-dress commonly worn by Muslims from the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world. Nonetheless, ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs have been the targeted by some as Muslim terrorists, and those confronted have often been put through emotional and physical abuse. In the incident against the Columbia professor, a group of about 12 to 15 young men allegedly approached the man and taunted him as “Osama” and a “terrorist.”
The authorities claim that at least one of them attacked, kicked and punched the man, leaving him with a broken jaw. At this point, however, there is no evidence that has been revealed to identify the defendant as the perpetrator. Criminal defense counsel will likely be cautious in evaluating a case where there is a group of rowdy people, any one of whom could be a perpetrator.
Thus, in New York and anywhere else, this type of arrest on felony charges must be investigated thoroughly by criminal defense counsel prior to making any decisions. The potential for a mistaken identification is present under these circumstances. One goal will be to guard and protect the defendant from another kind of abuse — the tragedy that arises when the wrong person is prosecuted.
Source: ABC News, “Hate Crime Charge in NY Attack on Sikh Professor”, , April 19, 2014