Judge gives stiff sentence to South Asian origin Queens resident for firebombing Hindu temple, mosque

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The judicial system in New York may be trying to send a message to perpetrators of hate crimes that they will pay a hefty penalty for racial/ethnic/religious/gender bias related crimes.

Statistics show such crimes have been growing over the last two years more than in previous years, attributed by some experts and observers as well as activists, to the political rhetoric used by leaders, including President Trump. However, Indians and Indian-Americans have been collateral victims of this rise in hate and bias crimes, not just recently, but since 9/11 and through the administration of President Barack Obama. In fact, the latest sentence passed Dec. 6, by  a Brooklyn federal court, was for a 2012 hate crime against Hindu and Muslim establishments, incidents in which, luckily, no one was hurt. Ironically, the man who perpetrated the crime appears to be of part-Indian origin.

This Dec. 6, a resident in Queens, Ray Lazier Lengend, who firebombed a Hindu temple and a mosque in the area on Jan. 1, 2012, was sentenced by United States District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall to 18 years and 10 months in prison, to be followed by three years’ supervised release, for perpetrating hate crimes in Queens, New York.  Lengend, whose full name is Suraj Poonai Ray Lazier Lengend according to a Queens news site (qns.com), pleaded guilty in December 2017 to two counts of hate crimes through the use of fire and explosives.

According to the New York Police Department, there has been an increase in hate crimes over the last one year, from 297 in 1017, to around 309 this year for the same period.

While half of those hate crimes registered by NYPD have been anti-Semitic, hate crimes overall have soared over the last two years.

In New York City, according to the NYPD quarterly Hate Crime Reports, there’s been a drop in felony hate crime complaints received from 34 in the first three quarters of 2017, to 29 in the same period this year. However, overall “Bias Motivation” crimes are higher and an overwhelming majority are against Jews, with Blacks coming in second (NYPD Complaint Statistics by Bias Motivation 2018).

At the national level, the South Asian Americans Leading Together, reported that between Nov. 9, 2016, and Nov. 7, 2017, there had been a 45 percent increase in hate/bias crimes against these minorities — from 302 incidents of hate violence and hate speech against them. The organization said such a level had not been seen since the immediate post 9/11 period.

In a bid to deter these types of crimes, the judicial system may be trying to convey the message the price to pay will be harsh.

According to authorities, Lengend was motivated by hate when he fire-bombed five buildings in Queens with the intent to kill or maim innocent people simply because of their religion or national origins. That’s according to FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney.

“Lengend’s firebombing of houses of worship out of hatred of certain religions and races is the antithesis of what this country is all about,” United States Attorney Richard Donoghue is quoted saying in a press release.  “Such hate-filled crimes, through which he spread fear and endangered the lives of first responders and others, will never be tolerated by the Justice Department or the American people,” Donoghue added. While that may provide some solace to some members of the community, Sikhs and Hindus, who are visible minorities that find themselves clubbed along with a number of other Middle Eastern ethnicities, have faced the brunt of racial or religious hatred, along with Jews, some of them perpetrated by other minorities.

On January 1, 2012, Lengend went on a firebombing spree, attacking five buildings in Queens with Molotov cocktails, including a Shiite mosque, the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation and a private residence that housed a Hindu temple.  He was arrested the next day.  Following the his arrest, Lengend said he hated Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners.  With respect to the mosque bombing, Lengend said that he had intended to “take out as many Arabs as possible.”  No one was injured by the defendant’s attacks.

Lengend was prosecuted in a parallel proceeding in State Supreme Court in Queens, and pleaded guilty to attempted arson as a hate crime and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in October 2017.  The Dec. 6 sentence will run concurrent with the state sentence.

 

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