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Teen gets no jail for anti-Sikh hate crime
By Nicole Bode
June 6, 2008


A Queens teen convicted of bias for cutting the hair of a Sikh schoolmate ducked jail time on Thursday in exchange for a year of community service and an essay for the judge.
Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld ordered Umair Ahmed, 19, to complete 180 hours of community service and write about what he'd learned since his attack on 16-year-old Harpal Vacher.

Based on Ahmed's conduct in the next year, Blumenfeld will decide next June whether to put him behind bars.

"What you did was incredibly stupid," Blumenfeld told Ahmed. "Incarceration just can't be the only answer. For this next year, the threat of jail hangs over your head."

Sikh leaders were upset.

"The whole thing was a disgrace. It just wasn't an appropriate sentence," said Prabhjot Narula of United Sikhs, an advocacy group that accompanied a devastated Harpal from the courthouse. "For a hate crime, it was a slap on the wrist."

Ahmed faced 11/3 to fouryears behind bars for the May 24, 2007, attack on Harpal, in which he dragged the Newtown High School freshman into a school bathroom, ripped off his turban and cut off his waist-length hair, a violation of Sikh religion, prosecutors said.

Ahmed was irate over a taunt about his mother, authorities said.

A Queens jury convicted Ahmed of felony menacing and coercion charges, both hate crimes, along with weapons possession and harassment.

Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim who came to this country six years ago, will spend the next year serving at the Elmhurst-based South Asian Youth Action organization, as well as undergoing tolerance counseling at a Holocaust center. He'll also have to spend 100 hours at a program selected by prosecutors.

"We're very pleased with the sentence and think this is a fair resolution," said Ahmed's lawyer Bruce Maffeo.

United Sikh staffers called the verdict "grossly inadequate" and vowed to monitor the tolerance training to make sure it includes education about Sikhs.

"The Sikh community was very hurt by this incident," said Jaspreet Singh, staff lawyer for United Sikhs. "I hope that he spends a lot of time thinking about what he did."

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