NEW YORK: A Sikh cab driver, Harkirat Singh, 24, was racially abused by four unruly and drunk passengers, punched by one of them, who also snatched his turban off, in New York City, early Sunday morning.
Singh picked up four riders at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 30th Street around 5 a.m., but they were so drunk they were falling asleep and giving him contradictory directions, so he kicked them out near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, he said, reported the New York Post.
The rowdy riders refused to pay their fare, and Singh called the cops, he said.
That’s when one of the passengers began shouting “F–k you, Ali Baba,” punched Singh in the arm, swiped his turban and fled, the driver said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio decried the attack on Twitter.
“Harkirat Singh — You are welcome here,” de Blasio tweeted on Monday night. “What happened to you was wrong. You did the right thing by calling the NYPD.”
Shown the mayor’s message, Singh said he felt “better” — but he still wants justice.
The New York Daily News narrated the sequence of events and also said that the encounter had left him badly shaken and scared to do the night shift.
“I’m so afraid. I don’t want to work,” Singh told the Daily News at his home in Ozone Park, Queens. “It’s an insult on my religion, also,” he said. “An insult of my faith. It’s horrible.”
The immigrant from Punjab, India, said he picked up three men and a woman – all in their 20s – around 5 a.m. at the corner of Eighth Ave. and 30th St., a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden.
The quartet said they wanted to go to E. 165th St. and Jerome Ave. in the Bronx. When the yellow taxi reached that intersection, the passengers complained that Singh took them to the wrong destination — but the drunks couldn’t give the cabbie a straight answer about where to go next, he said.
“The girl’s saying, ‘Take the right.’ The Spanish guy’s saying, ‘Take the left.’ So, at that time, I was confused,” Singh said.
They began hurling slurs and banging on the plastic partition in his cab, Singh recalled.
“They’re using bad words, also. They said, ‘Ali Baba, f–k you,’” said Singh, who moved to the U.S. three years ago.
He pulled over and told the group to pay $41.76 and to find another cab. The woman coughed up the cash after Singh called 911 — but then one of the men got back into the cab.
Singh said the man who got back into the cab tried to smash the meter. Then he punched Singh in the arm, the cabbie said.
After that, he picked off my turban from my head,” he said. “He wanted to snatch my phone also…It was too horrible.”
Police sources described the suspect as a clean-shaven white Hispanic man in his 20s, around 5-foot-9 and weighing 160 lbs. He was wearing red shoes and blue jeans. He had short hair.
Terrified and crying, Singh says he pleaded with the man to calm down.
“Why are you doing this, brother? We can sit. We can talk,” he recalled telling the unruly passenger.
“At that time, I’m so afraid — they can do anything to me. They’re gonna kill me.”
With cops en route, the group made a run for it — with Singh’s turban, which is a primary symbol of the faith.
Singh said he’d been wearing a turban since he was six years old. The theft occurred just hours after thousands of Sikhs flocked to Times Square for the annual celebration of Vaisakhi also dubbed Turban Day, reported the Daily News.
The Sikh community have also started a million dollar campaign on national television in the US, and a billboard campaign in Connecticut recently, to raise awareness about the community, to counter rising hate crimes.
Police say they’re only seeking one suspect, though they’d like to speak to the other three passengers. Singh did not require a medical attention but filed a report with police. He was able to snap a photo of two of the passengers.
Harpreet Singh Toor, the chairman of public policy and external affairs at The Sikh Cultural Society, said the theft reflected prejudice against Sikhs, who often are the butt of anti-Muslim bias despite following a different faith.
“I used to get mad — now I laugh at it, because if we are still ignorant about other faiths…who will make those people understand?” he asked.