NEW YORK – A teenager was arrested for a bias crime after violating a Sikh student's religious beliefs by forcibly removing the sobbing victim's turban and chopping his hair off in a high school bathroom, authorities said Friday.
Umair Ahmed, 17, of Queens, was charged with three counts under hate crime statutes: unlawful imprisonment, menacing and aggravated harassment, said Kevin Ryan, spokesman for the Queens district attorney. Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, was also charged with criminal possession of a weapon.
Ahmed was trading insults with the 15-year-old Sikh youth at Newtown High School on Thursday afternoon when the younger boy tried to apologize, said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Ahmed, carrying a pair of scissors, told Vacher Harpal that he would only accept a haircut as an apology.
"I have to cut your hair," Ahmed allegedly said. When Harpal tried to argue with his attacker, Ahmed threatened to punch the younger student before dragging the teen into a school bathroom, authorities said.
The suspect then pulled the boy's turban off and cut his waist-length hair with the scissors while two other students acted as lookouts, Kelly said. The Sikh student's faith requires him to wear his hair long.
"The defendant is not accused of some schoolhouse prank, but an attack on the fundamental beliefs of his victim's religion and his freedom to worship freely," said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
If convicted, Ahmed faced up to seven years in prison.
No one else was charged following the 12:20 p.m. incident, according to Ryan. There was no listing for Ahmed at the Queens address provided by police.
School officials did not return a telephone message left Friday. Another Sikh student said there was generally little religious or ethnic tension among Newtown students.
"There are no problems at this school at all," said the student, Sukhrit Kaur, 18.