June 6, 2008: New York City Council Member John
Liu (left) accompanies Jagmohan Singh Premi (third from left), a student
at Richmond Hill High School, to a press conference organized by Sikh
Coalition in New York. Premi allegedly became the victim of racially motivated
hate crime because of his beard and turban. The city and state Officials called for action from
Department of Education to protect Sikh children. Also in the picture,
Pritpal Singh Premi (right), father of the student. PHOTO: Jay Mandal/On Assignment
Jagmohan Singh Premi, 18, a Sikh boy at Richmond Hill High School in Queens, New York, was allegedly attacked by a 15-year-old student last Tuesday. Premi’s attacker, who tried to remove his patka (small turban) before punching him in the face, had allegedly harassed him on several occasions prior to this act of violence. From India Abroad:
Premi suffered an orbital fracture and bruising during the incident, which led to the arrest of his 15-year-old attacker who has been charged with felony assault and harassment.
The classmate had reportedly pulled Premi's beard and called him 'dirty' and a 'terrorist' for months in their English as a second language class.
According to The Sikh Coalition, Premi wasn’t the first student to face hate crime against Sikh children at Richmond Hill High. They found that more than half of all Sikh students at the school who responded to a survey had been harassed at school. From the Coalition’s press release:
The Coalition has documented harassment of Sikh children specifically at Richmond Hill High School since June of 2007 when we released our report "Hatred in the Hallways" on bias against Sikh school children in New York City. On July 16, 2007, the Coalition directly raised the issue of anti-Sikh harassment at Richmond Hill High School at a meeting with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in materials submitted to the Chancellor and his staff at that meeting.
Here's Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s reaction and full text of his statement, regarding Premi's attacks from ABC 7 Eyewitness News. (You can also watch their video):
The chancellor admits the department needs to be more thorough in tracking bias incidents in the New York City school system. And he says they will be. But critics say they need to do more than just teach tolerance. They say students must learn more about the Sikh religion so that they can better understand their fellow students.
The following is the full text of Klein's statement:
"I have spoken with the student and his father and assured them that this incident will be investigated and that I am committed to providing him a safe learning environment. I won't tolerate any harassment based on race, religion, or gender in our schools. Because addressing and preventing bias crimes in school is a priority, I recently ordered the drafting of a new Chancellor's regulation that incorporates recommendations from the Sikh Coalition. Additionally, we will distribute an anti-bias brochure to every middle and high school student in the City that defines harassment, advises students of their rights, and outlines appropriate actions in response to acts of harassment. As part of this effort, we are also expanding our incident reporting system to comprehensively track bias-related incidents in our schools beginning in September."
Meanwhile, Umair Ahmed, who was convicted of a felony hate crime earlier this year, for forcibly cutting the hair of Sikh student in May 2007, has escaped jail term. From India Abroad
Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld ordered Umair Ahmed, 19, to complete 180 hours of community service and write an essay about what he had 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 was quoted as saying by New York Daily News. 'Incarceration just can't be the only answer. For this next year, the threat of jail hangs over your head.'
Activists were not satisfied with Klein's response, noting that education officials made promises after Vacher's hair were cut off and were unhappy with the sentence awarded in the case.
'The whole thing was a disgrace. It just wasn't an appropriate sentence,' said Prabhjot Narula of United Sikhs.
'For a hate crime, it was a slap on the wrist.'
Does 19-year-old Ahmed’s acquittal sends the right message to school children?