Two men found guilty of assaulting an Indian-American in Redmond, California were sentenced to three years in state prison May 18. The Sikh community, to which the victim belonged, says it is just punishment and a recognition of their years-long campaign to get hate crimes against Sikhs recognized.
Chase Little and Colton Leblanc were found guilty of felony assault and hate crime charges for beating up Maan Singh Khalsa.
On Sept. 25, 2016, while Khalsa was waiting in his car at an intersection, Little and Leblanc got out of their truck and assaulted him through his open car window, hitting his face repeatedly, knocking off his turban and cutting his unshorn hair with a knife.
Khalsa, an IT professional and a father, speaking at the sentencing, said, “The recognition of the attack as a hate crime – as harm to my dignity and my entire community – is the first step in the process,” a press release from the Sikh Coalition said. “I still consider you my brothers, and I hope that you will learn about me and my community, and one day consider me your brother, too,” he added.
Satinder S. Malhi, a local activist who knows Khalsa, told News India Times, “We are satisfied the case has come to a conclusion and the assailants were sentenced with a hate crime enhancement.”
Khalsa and Malhi attend the same El Sobrante Gurdwara.
“In order to deal with hate you have to recognize it,” Malhi said. “Today was a first step.”
Discussing the issue of hate crimes against people of the Sikh faith, Malhi said one of the challenges was being a “visible minority.”
“Sikhs number only 290,000 in a population of 39 million in California,” he noted. “These incidents (of hate crime) are not commonplace and the vast majority has embraced us. A very small minority thin they can tke out their prejudices openly,” he added.
Prior to the charges against Little and Leblanc, the Sikh Coalition, community leaders, and a coalition of civil rights organizations, advocated on Khalsa’s behalf, urging for a hate crime investigation and prosecution, the Sikh Coalition said in a press release.
“The attack upon Mr. Khalsa based upon his perceived religion and identity is an attack upon us all,” Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney, Simon O’Connell, is quoted saying in the release. “As a community we must do better and it is my hope that today’s sentence moves us further in that direction.”
“It’s imperative for the community to be engaged – be at the PTA meetings, soccer games, in city council meetings, to have a more visible presence,” Malhi told News India Times.
According to the Sikh Coalition, in the 15 years following 9/11, “Sikhs remain hundreds of times more likely to be targeted in cases of profiling, bigotry and backlash than the average American.”
“Acknowledging that this bias-based attack is a hate crime under state law both recognizes the deep dignitary harm to Mr. Khalsa, and ensures that we, as a society, confront the problems of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia that make the Sikh community a target for violence,” Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney Pawanpreet Kaur is quoted saying in the press release.