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Press Release: Thursday, 29 December 2005, (Poh 15, 537 Nanakshahi)
Queens, New York – On December 22, 2005 the final act in the Rajinder Singh Khalsa and Gurcharan Singh assault trial was played out. Five men were sentenced to minimum jail sentence for their part in this brutal crime after none of them were found guilty for a hate crime assault.
After a five week trial, attended almost daily by UNITED SIKHS legal advisor, Tejinder Singh, the judge found that Mr. Rajinder Singh was brutally assaulted but the reason these men attacked Mr. Singh was not because of his religion but because he had called the police. Therefore this assault was not a hate crime. When asked by reporters what he though of the verdict Rajinder Singh said,"They threw my turban out into the street. Ifthis is not hate than what is?"
Interestingly Judge Rotker did find that some of the defendants were guilty of harassing Rajinder and Gurcharan because of their religion but he did not extend it to the assault.
This episode started innocuously when Salvatore Maceli, his family and friends were celebrating the christening of his daughter at the Villa Roma restaurant. At about the same time Gurcharan Singh and Rajinder Singh were walking past the restaurant to have a social tea at Gurcharan's restaurant close to the Villa Roma.
This could have ended there, a simple crossing of cultures in the melting pot known as New York. But Ryan Meehan and Nicholas Maceli, guests of Salvatore Maceli, had other ideas. As soon as they saw these differently attired older men they immediately started to taunt them. These were painful mean spirited comments whose only purpose was to offend and humiliate Rajinder and Gurcharan. They taunted the victims, "Hey you have my dirty curtain on your head give it back to me." Rajinder, a soft spoken man, replied, "Sir this is not a dirty curtain but a turban." He went on to explain that purpose and nature of the turban as a religious symbol. These two young men went on and on calling Rajinder and Gurcharan's turban dirty curtains. They kept asking for them to take it off and give it to them.
This went on for several minutes and a crowd of Salvatore Maceli's Guests had gathered outside the Villa Roma restaurant. They surrounded these two Sikhs and joined in the taunting. One of these guests was Terrance Long who told Rajinder "go back to your country you ragheaded Mother-f---er"
At this time Gurcharan was struck, his turban removed and tossed out On to the street like a napkin one discards after use. When Rajinder saw this he immediately called the police. A few moments after the police were called Victor Consentino, at 54 yrs, the oldest in this group, joined the fray. You would expect that he would bring the wisdom of his 54 years to bear on the situation and try to control the younger men who were harassing Rajinder and Gurcharan. He did not try to restore peace, he did not attempt to explain to the younger crowd that this was inappropriate behavior. He instead joined in the taunts and threatened Rajinder. He told him that if the police came to his house he would come back and kill him.
By this time both Rajinder and Gurcharan were surrounded by about 15 to 20 people. They were hurling racial epitaths at them and inching closer. Suddenly Salvatore Maceli bursts on to the scene. He runs out of Villa Roma and toward an unsuspecting Rajinder, whose arms were down next to him in a non confrontational stance. Salvatore Maceli then punches him in the face several times, ironically, all this on the day that he introduced his daughter to the Christian faith, a faith of peace, love, and tolerance, traits that he, his family and guests were totally lacking on this day in front of the Villa Roma restaurant.
After being punched Rajinder fell to the ground, someone grabbed his turban and threw it into the middle of Lefferts boulevard. While he was on the floor this group of men 15 to 20 in size started to kick him in the face and body until he lost consciousness.
George Russo, the owner of Villa Russo testified that he saw Rajinder being punched and then kicked by the a large group of men outside his restaurant. Rajinder identified, both Victor Constentino and Salvatore Maceli, as two members of the group that were kicking him. Salim Hussein, who happened to be walking by saw what happened and testified at trial. He clearly identified Salvatore Maceli as the person who punched Rajinder Singh first.
In addition to the testimony of Rajinder, the district Attorney introduced the testimony of a British tourist who happened to see the assault. He testified that a large group of men had surrounded two "Sikh Gentlemen" and were arguing with them. That all of a sudden these men attacked the Sikh gentleman and were kicking them on the floor.
Before the police arrived these five defendants got into a car and sped away. Eventually most went to the police station and gave varied statements that they had to beat up this 55 year old man. The gist of their collective explanation was that either they did nothing wrong or that they were acting in self defence.
Rajinder Singh left his dignity, pride, and turban in the middle of Lefferts boulevard that July afternoon. He was left crumpled on the sidewalk unconscious. But he was not left empty handed. The defendants had left him with an impacted nasal fracture, multiple nasal fractures, and fracture of the orbital bone. He had trouble breathing and for some months could not sleep lying down. He needed corrective nasal surgery so he could finally sleep. He was unable to work, and afraid to leave his home with his turban on in fear of being assaulted again. He has permanent vision loss in both his eyes and now requires glasses.
After this horrific assault these five men were arrested and charged with myriad crimes, the most serious being assault as a hate crime. What this means is that they inflicted serious physical injury on Rajinder Singh and the attack was solely or substantially because he was a Sikh.
At trial the defence attorneys feebly tried to paint Rajinder Khalsa as a violent man and as a “terrorist.” They asked him had ever told someone if he was from Afghanistan, an attempt to associate him and Sikhs with the Taliban.
At sentencing Rajinder and Gurcharan, after preparation assisted by UNITED SIKHS, spoke to the court about their ordeal and the impact of this assault on them. Rajinder related how his son had to drop out of college so he could help support the family, how his family had to see his broken face and body after the assault. The impact of this on his wife and children, and the pain and humiliation he suffered as a result of this attack. He eloquently blessed all the defendants and asked the judge to sentence them fairly, with justice as the motivating factor and not revenge.
Gurcharan recounted the hurt and humiliation he felt when his turban
was called a dirty curtain and then snatched off his head and thrown
out into the street.
The defendants were given an opportunity to speak both before the court and with their probation officer about how they felt about the incident. Not one of the five defendants showed any remorse. They all insisted that this vicious beating of a 55 year old man was self defence. The judge then sentenced them to terms ranging from 2 years to a term of 5 days jail and community service at Gurdwaras.
Rajinder Singh was happy with the sentence, as were most in the Sikh community. He thanked UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh Coalition for their help.
His goal was not revenge or punishment for these five individuals. He simply wanted justice and some vehicle for these men to learn tolerance, peace and understanding of other groups. He felt that the court addressed this through the community service requirement.
There are those who thought that the court did not go far enough; that these men needed to be punished for their heinous crime; that the court should have recognized the only reason Rajinder and Gurcharan were attacked was because they were wearing turbans; that sentences of two years through five days for the defendants is woefully inadequate and that this light sentence is no deterrent at all.
We should follow the example of Rajinder Singh. He is an extraordinary individual for having gone through what He did and then turn around and forgive the men who brutally assaulted him. He exhibited the finest virtues of humanity that our Gurus sought to develop in us.
Let us in the name of our Gurus forgive and move on, but let us also never forget.
Following is the sentence meted out to the defendants:
➢ Salvatore Nacelli was convicted of Felony assault and sentenced to two years jail time, 5 years post release supervision, and 200 hours community service.
➢ Nicholas Maceli was convicted of Felony assault and was sentenced to 6 months jail, 5 years probation, 150 hours community service, sensitivity training and anger management classes.
➢ Ryan Meehan was convicted of Aggravated Harassment, a class A misdemeanor and sentenced to 60 days jail, 150 hours community service, sensitivity training and anger management classes.
➢ Terrance long was convicted of Aggravated Harassment and sentenced to 20 days jail time, 150 hours community service, sensitivity training and anger management classes.
To read a previous press release on this hate crime click: http://unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/COMVCE-09-12-2005-00.htm
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