In a huge victory for the Sikh American community, the DuPage County, Ill., State Attorney’s office reversed an earlier decision and announced Sept. 14 that it would charge a young assailant who attacked an elderly Indian American a week earlier with a hate crime.
The assailant – who is not being named as he is a juvenile – is in custody. On the evening of Sept. 8, the 17-year-old white male tailed the car of Indian American businessman Inderjit Singh Mukker, 53, in Darien, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Shortly after the attack, Mukker told India-Westthat the young man tailed his car for several blocks in the right lane. Mukker was in the left lane.
At some point, the juvenile pulled into Mukker’s lane, completely blocking him off. He then got out of his car, according to the victim, and began repeatedly beating Mukker through an open window.
“He started punching me repeatedly like a rubber ball,” Mukker emotionally told India-West. “He kept yelling at me: ‘Bin Laden, why are you driving this Prius? Go back to your own country,’” said the Sikh American.
“I have lived in this country for 28 years. I never expected racism to happen to me,” said Mukker, who manages rental property and drives for Uber. The businessman was treated on the scene and spent a day in the hospital receiving treatment for lacerations and bruises on his face.
The DuPage, Ill., State Attorney’s office initially charged the assailant with five counts of felony aggravated battery, characterizing the attack as a road rage incident. But in a decision released Sept. 14 – after the office met with members of the Sikh Coalition and Mukker – DuPage County State Attorney Robert Berlin announced that the attacker would also be charged with one felony count of a hate crime.
Paul Darrah, a spokesman for the DuPage County State Attorney’s office, told India-West: “We came upon some new information that we were initially unaware of. It is not unusual for that to happen in these types of cases.”
Illinois statutes on hate crimes are broader than most states: race, religion or national origin can be involved in whole or in part for a hate crime to be charged, said Darrah. If convicted of the charge, the assailant could receive a number of punishments at the judge’s discretion, including 200 hours of community service, writing a letter of apology to Mukker and the local Sikh community, or speaking out against hate-motivated crime.
Darrah said the decision was not based on the emotional plea by Mukker nor the meeting with the Sikh Coalition but solely on the additional incriminating evidence that had come to light. No court date has yet been scheduled, he said, noting that the assailant is in the hospital for an illness unrelated to the incident with Mukker.
At a press conference Sept. 15 at the site of the attack, Mukker told reporters and members of the Indian American community that he was viciously attacked. “No American should feel threatened while going for a simple trip to the grocery store.” “He called me ‘Bin Laden’ and told me to go home to my country.”
Narinder Singh, chairman of the board of the Sikh Coalition, said at the press conference: “Identifying this assault properly as a hate crime is not about the potential length of the punishment. In this case the sentence would be no more severe.” Brown said he has been in contact with the Sikh Coalition and the Department of Justice and is looking into training for his officers in regards to the handling of hate crimes against minorities. He characterized Darien as “one of the safest cities in the U.S. with an extremely diverse population,” including many Indian Americans.