LOS ANGELES, California, USA—On November 6, 2015, a turbaned Sikh bus operator for the Los Angeles County MTA was brutally attacked by a bus passenger who called him a “terrorist” and “suicide bomber,” and accused him of hijacking the bus.
In the face of this violent hate crime assault, Mr. Balwinder Jit Singh, a father of five, who has worked as a bus operator for 17 years, was able to think quickly and keep his foot on the brake of the running bus while he was beaten. Mr. Singh’s courage ensured the safety of the bus passengers and pedestrians. The assault left Mr. Singh in the hospital with a black eye, swollen and bruised face and jaw, and infection in his eye.
Two months after the attack, Mr. Singh continues to suffer from head pain, eye pain and blurred vision. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office Transit Services Bureau, the assailant responsible has been identified and is currently in custody with the Los Angeles Police Department on a different matter.
Mr. Singh, who is on the board of the recently vandalized Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Buena Park, has retained the Sikh Coalition to represent him in this ongoing criminal investigation.
“The Sikh Coalition’s work in the Buena Park vandalism case informed my thinking to go public with my case,” said Mr. Singh. “Hate crimes should never be followed with silence. I know that sharing my story sheds further light on the bigotry and hatred faced by communities across the nation. These crimes cannot be tolerated.”
The Sikh Coalition’s legal team is working with the local sheriff’s office and the FBI to push for a hate crime investigation and prosecution. Police say the suspect potentially faces only misdemeanor assault charges. These charges fail to capture the violent nature of the attack and the anti-Sikh bias that precipitated it.
“In the face of hateful rhetoric and the current climate of fear, the Sikh Coalition remains committed to protecting the rights of Sikhs and to ensuring that all bias-based incidents are thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice,” said the Sikh Coalition’s senior staff attorney, Gurjot Kaur. “We cannot fight hate if law enforcement agencies ignore or fail to recognize hate crimes or charge perpetrators appropriately.”
The violence against Mr. Singh is another incident in a string of bias-based attacks against Sikhs across the country, and the Sikh Coalition has been working with victims and families to ensure that such incidents are investigated appropriately and that victims’ rights are protected.
During this period of increased anxiety, we urge Sikhs to exercise extra vigilance and caution. Please notify law enforcement of any threats or violence, and contact the Sikh Coalition at 212-655-3095 or online here. In addition, we urge community members to review our FAQ guide on hate crimes, hate speech and how to report incidents to the authorities and to the Sikh Coalition. As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly.