Juvenile in Attack on Illinois Sikh Charged With Hate Crime

  • The Sikh Coalition held a press conference Sept. 15, and the Indian American community held a rally at the spot where Inderjit Singh Mukker was attacked a week earlier. The Sikh Coalition’s legal director, Harsimran Kaur, can be seen speaking at the press conference. (Sikh Coalition photo)

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.

“Crimes based on hatred or prejudices have no place in our society,” Berlin said in a press statement Sept. 14. “Any physical attack motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s pre-conceived bias against another individual based on race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is a crime not only against the victim but against society as a whole.

“Anyone accused of such behavior will be vigorously prosecuted and held accountable for their actions,” said Berlin, noting that the assailant also punched a police officer in the face when he was arrested at his home shortly after the attack.

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.”

“I have lived here for 28 years. This is my country; this is my home,” said Mukker, noting that his children have grown up here. His son is in college, and his daughter and wife are both nurses.

“I am thankful to the DuPage County State Attorney’s office for understanding that this was more than just an assault,” he said. “I was attacked because of the color of my skin and my articles of faith.”

Reverend Otis Moss, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill., also spoke at the press conference. “Hate is a toxic virus that affects the soul of democracy,” he stated, adding: “We are here to take on hate with you. You are our brothers; you are our sisters.”

The press conference and community rally in support of Mukker coincided with the anniversary of the first deadly hate crime in the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American, was shot and killed on Sept. 15, 2001 after a man, yelling similar racial slurs, opened fire on him at his gas station in Arizona.

 “From Balbir Singh Sodhi’s tragic death to Inderjit Singh Mukker’s assault last week, we are all reminded of how much more we still have to do to combat the problem of hate in our country,” said the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, Harsimran Kaur, at the press conference.

“We are thankful that Robert Berlin and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office have filed hate crime charges in Mr. Mukker’s case. It sends a clear message to Sikhs and other minority communities throughout Chicago that our government will not tolerate this sort of misguided bigotry and violence,” she said.

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.”

“It would, however, potentially lead to treatment that helps the perpetrator address his underlying motive, hatred. The designation of this act as a hate crime is about acknowledging the problem that hate-based violence creates in our society. It’s about showing that our government is committed to taking it on with purpose and conviction,” said Singh.

Darien Police Chief Ernest Brown told India-West the racist attack was without precedent. “I’ve been the police chief here for four years; this is the first incident that we have classified as a hate crime.”

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.

Source: India West