Oregon Grand Jury Fails to Indict Turban Attackers with a Hate Crime
by Sikh Coalition
Roseberg, OR (March 20, 2008) - The Sikh Coalition is disappointed that an Oregon grand jury declined to indict three men for committing a hate crime when they tore off and stole a Sikh trucker’s turban. The Coalition learned last night that the grand jury instead chose to indict the men on the lesser charges of harassment and theft in the third degree.
“Burning a cross on an African American’s lawn is not a mere act of vandalism, and stealing a Sikh’s turban is not a misdemeanor theft. They are both hate crimes,” said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition.
On August 5, 2007, Ranjit Singh was leaving a convenience store at a truck stop in Oakland, Oregon. As he was leaving the store, three men approached him and tore off his turban. The assailants immediately drove away in two separate cars.
Ranjit Singh called the police right away. The police arrived and were able to view the store’s surveillance video. On September 6, 2007, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office arrested three men in connection with the assault. The Coalition then confirmed that the Douglas County District Attorney was pursuing hate crime charges against the attackers.
The Grand Jury and Their Decision Not to Indict the Attackers for Committing Hate Crimes
Whenever a person commits a crime, only a prosecutor who represents the government may prosecute the crime. Here, since the attack against Ranjit Singh occurred in Douglas County, Oregon, the Douglas County District Attorney’s office is in charge of prosecuting Ranjit’s attackers.
The Douglas County District Attorney decided to pursue charging Ranjit’s attackers with committing a hate crime which is a felony (a crime defined as serious). In Oregon, whenever a prosecutor charges anyone with a felony, they must always first request the permission of a Grand Jury to do so. The Grand Jury is composed of ordinary citizens of Douglas County.
In this case, the Grand Jury decided that there was not enough evidence to move forward with a hate crime prosecution. The prosecutor believes that the Grand Jury may have viewed the attack on Ranjit Singh as a prank committed for childish amusement rather than the act of bias-motivated bigots. The Grand Jury therefore charged the attackers with misdemeanor (crime defined as less serious) theft and harassment, but not a felony hate crime.
The Sikh Coalition’s Concerns and the “Dollar Value” of a Turban
While we are thankful that the Douglas County District Attorney’s office pursued hate crime charges against the attackers, we are disappointed that the Grand Jury did not move forward with a hate crime indictment.
We are disturbed that the dollar value of Ranjit Singh’s turban arose as an issue during the Grand Jury proceeding as a means of determining the degree of theft the attackers would be charged with. The turban is a priceless article of faith for Sikhs. Sikhs throughout history have chosen death over removing their turbans since it encapsulates a Sikh’s commitment to their faith.
It is clear from our perspective that the Grand Jury completely misunderstood what’s at stake here. Stealing a Sikh’s turban is not a matter of mere theft, it is a hate crime that injures the entire community.
The Sikh Coalition calls on the Douglas County District Attorney’s office to disallow the attackers to plea down the current misdemeanor charges. We look forward to cooperating with the District Attorney’s office during the attackers’ misdemeanor proceedings to explain the impact of the attack on Ranjit Singh.
We also call on the federal government to investigate charging these attackers with hate crimes under federal law. Federal law can act as a safety net here to ensure the true impact of this attack is affirmed by the judicial system.
We call on all Sikhs to stand up for their civil rights and fearlessly maintain their articles of faith.
The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works for the realization of civil and human rights for all people. The Coalition serves as a resource on Sikhs and Sikh concerns for government, organizations and individuals.