viewComments Road Rage Incident Turns Deadly; Sikh Victim’s Family Asks for Hate Crime Charges

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Road Rage Incident Turns Deadly; Sikh Victim’s Family Asks for Hate Crime Charges

Sikh Americans are facing a fresh wave of hate crimes, amid the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Jasmer Singh of Queens, New York / Image: ArjanSMangat/X

A memorial service will be held Oct. 27 for an elderly Sikh American man, who has died of injuries he sustained during a possible hate crime.

An Antim Darshan and Bhog for Jasmer Singh, 68, will be held at the Moloney Family Funeral Home in Ronkonkoma, New York. Singh was a resident of the Queens borough in New York.

According to police reports, on Oct. 19, Singh was driving on New York’s Van Wyck Expressway when his car hit the fender of suspect Gilbert Augustin. Both men got out of their cars to inspect the damage, which police characterized as minor.

As Singh proceeded to call police, Augustin allegedly grabbed the phone from his hand, stating: “No police.” The two men then got into an altercation. As Singh walked back to his car, Augustin allegedly punched him several times, knocking him down. He then sped off. 

Singh was transported to a local hospital. He succumbed to brain injuries from the attack the following day. Singh’s wife was in the car when her husband was attacked; she remained unharmed.

The incident has been characterized as “road rage.”

Augustin, 30, was arrested Oct. 21 and charged with felony manslaughter. According to his booking record, he is being held in jail without bail and will make his next court appearance Oct. 26. The suspect has not yet entered a plea.

As of press time Oct. 24 evening, Subeg Singh Multani, Singh’s son, had not returned several calls for comment by New India Abroad. In an interview with CBS New York, Multani said he wants hate crime charges to be added to the case against Augustin. He noted that his father wears a turban and beard, and that his appearance provoked his attacker.

"There was no reason for someone to go in that intensity. My father was targeted and it is a possible hate crime,” said Multani.

Hate crime charges typically add an average of 2-7 years to a sentence. Prosecutors are often reluctant to charge hate crimes, as they are difficult to prove: the crime must begin with bias motivation. To be convicted of a hate crime in this incident, prosecutors would have to prove that Augustin sought out and targeted Singh with the intent to cause bodily injury.

But New York Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny told reporters at a news briefing that the case was “100%” not a hate crime. He noted that Augustin “never indicated that the assault stemmed from the nationality or race.” 

Multani disagreed, saying his mother had heard the suspect use the word “turban.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams issued a statement about Singh’s death. “Jasmer Singh loved his city and deserved so much more than his tragic death,” he tweeted Oct. 22. “On behalf of all New Yorkers, I want our Sikh community to know you have more than our condolences. You have our sacred vow that we reject the hatred that took this innocent life and we will protect you.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people, Sikh Americans, mistaken for Muslims, became immediate targets of hate crimes. Gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first post 9-11 hate crime victim: he was killed in Mesa, Arizona by Frank Silva Roque, who told his friends that he was going to kill some “towel heads.” Fears have intensified this month as Sikh Americans fear being mistakenly targeted amid the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

The organization Stop AAPI Hate has collected more than 11,500 reports of bias-motivated incidents since March, 2020. “We mourn the death of Jasmer Singh, a Sikh elder who recently died after being assaulted in an apparent hate-motivated attack in Queens, NYC, said the organization in a tweet. “As we witnessed after 9/11, intensifying anti-Muslim & anti-Arab rhetoric is harming South Asians, Sikhs, Arabs and Muslims across the US.”

Singh’s death follows an attack earlier this month of a Sikh teenager, who was assaulted while boarding a bus. Suspect Christopher Philippeaux punched 19-year-old Mani Sandhu multiple times and attempted to remove his turban, saying: “We don’t wear that here.” 

Philippeaux is in jail, and is being held on bail of $20,000. He has been charged with 3rd degree misdemeanor assault, as well as a hate crime.

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