RICHMOND, Calif. – Prosecutors in the San Francisco Bay Area have filed hate crime charges against two men accused of attacking a Sikh man by removing his turban and cutting a fistful of hair with a pocket knife last month, officials said.
Authorities said Maan Singh Khalsa's religion mandates that he not cut his hair. Observant Sikhs men often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards.
About 30 faith-based and advocacy groups sent a letter to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office Thursday calling for hate crime charges in the attack. Chase Little, 31, and Colton Leblanc, 24, have been charged with felony assault and hate crimes. A bench warrant will be issued for Leblanc. Little is free on bail, but it was not immediately known if he has an attorney.
A man who was previously arrested, Dustin Albarado. 25, will not be charged, said Deputy District Attorney Simon O'Connell.
Khalsa, 41, said the assailants violently targeted his Sikh faith.
"The charges are the first step to addressing violence and bigotry, which plague communities across the United States," Khalsa said in a statement.
Authorities said Khalsa was at a Richmond intersection on Sept. 25 when a man in a truck threw a beer can at his car. At an intersection farther up the road, the assailants got out of the truck and assaulted Khalsa through his open car window, knocking off his Sikh turban and hitting his face repeatedly, according to the Sikh Coalition, which has been advocating on his behalf.
They shouted expletives at him, pulled his head out of the window and cut a fistful of his religiously-mandated unshorn hair with a knife. Khalsa sustained injuries to his fingers, hands, eye and teeth, the coalition said.
His finger will need to be amputated because of an infection to a cut he received while fighting off his attackers.
"I trusted the district attorney's office to do the right thing and they came through," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. "We do not condone this in Richmond and we don't condone it in America."
Attacks on Sikhs in the U.S. rose after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, during a wave of anti-Muslim backlash. Though Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims in the U.S., Sikhism is a different monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide, most of them in India.
Four years ago, a white supremacist opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin killing six worshippers.
A teen and a man in Fresno, California attacked a 68-year-old Sikh man last year, beating him and running him over with a car. Police say they targeted Amrik Singh Bal because he was wearing a turban and traditional Sikh robes.
A Chicago-area teenager was charged with a hate crime after a 2015 road rage incident in which he called 53-year-old Sikh taxi driver Inderjit Mukker "Bin Laden" and repeatedly hit him in the face, breaking his cheekbone.
Information from: Contra Costa Times, http://www.contracostatimes.com