Hate Crime Opponent Becomes A Victim

Last year, Prabhjot Singh wrote an op-ed calling for the government to track anti-Sikh violence. This month, he became a victim of a similar attack near his home in New York City. He talks with host Rachel Martin about the attack, and what he hopes comes out of it.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. One week ago, a man named Prabhjot Singh was walking in his Harlem neighborhood. Singh is a doctor and an assistant professor at Columbia University. On that night he was walking near the north end of Central Park, just blocks from the school and his home, when he was attacked by a group of young men. They broke his jaw, knocked out some of his teeth, all the while yelling things like terrorist and Osama. Eventually, several bystanders intervened. Dr. Singh is a Sikh. Other members of his faith have been targets of hate crimes because of their turbans and uncut beards. Singh had even written an op-ed about hate crimes after the massacre of Sikhs in a temple in Wisconsin. Now, Dr. Singh is trying to understand what happened to him. He joins us now from New York. Thank you so much for being with us.

DR. PRABHJOT SINGH: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: First of all, may I ask how you're doing?

SINGH: I'm doing well, thanks, all things considered. I had some surgery to stabilize my fractured jaw. And I'm speaking to you through that jaw, so I'm doing OK, all in all.

MARTIN: This happened in your neighborhood, near where you work, where you and your family live. I imagine adds another dimension to what happened to you.

SINGH: It's - as it would be for anybody, a surprise and certainly a shock. But certainly, because it is just a few blocks from where I live, it certainly gave us pause and a little bit of concern for the rest of our family and community around us. But that being said, it's also very familiar ground, very comforting ground and also a source of - we know - deep support across the neighborhood.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, they called you things - they called you a terrorist; references to Osama bin Laden. Have you been the victim of slurs like that before?

SINGH: Certainly. Especially after 9/11, I think anyone across the country, anybody that looked different, whether they had darker skin, had turban and beards like Sikhs, being called a terrorist or Osama or other slurs - certainly a part of a lot of people's lives. And it has been the same for me. I'd say that, for the most part, I work with a very professional community. And so the degree to which I hear it is relatively limited. But it certainly comes up from time to time, and more often around times when there is more in the news around Islamic extremism or terrorist activity.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of whether or not you were targeted for a while? Did this happen spontaneously?

SINGH: My guess is that my beard and turban certainly was a trigger for the event. And what ensued was quick, crude and likely spontaneous.

MARTIN: You wrote in an op-ed after the attack that you're not angry but in fact you are grateful, which is an unusual response, considering what happened to you? Can you explain what that means to you?

SINGH: I think at the heart of it, when I work every day with my colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital, we end up seeing people that actually do come in that have suffered either attacks or other stigmata violence, and I know just how severe it can be, both mentally and physically. In that sense, I feel very fortunate that it wasn't worse because I've certainly seen worse. I'm deeply fortunate that my child and my wife, who I dropped off at our house just seven to 10 minutes earlier, weren't with us. And ultimately, I hope that there is a story of some degree of optimism and hope that emerges from this because we only have after such events the rest of our lives in front of us. And so I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful to be able to speak about what can be done on a more positive note moving forward and a more productive one for everybody in the neighborhood and potentially even for some of the kids that were part of the attack.

MARTIN: Did you know any of the bystanders who intervened, who tried to help you?

SINGH: I didn't know them before, but I'll certainly never forget their faces. One was an elderly African-American gentleman who was one of the first to the scene and I'm quite sure stopped further damage. There was a young nurse and a couple other people that lived across the street that must also have been stunned that right across their door there was an event like this that took place. And I haven't seen them since, but they've certainly been in my thoughts.

MARTIN: Prabhjot Singh. He's a medical doctor. He's also an assistant professor of international affairs at Columbia University. Thank you so much for talking with us, Dr. Singh.

SINGH: Great. Thank you.

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