Hate crime victim recounts assault in his liquor store

By Cadonna M. Peyton, The Associated Press
Saturday December 08, 2001

LOS ANGELES — “Are you (Osama) bin Laden?” 

Two men accused Surinder Singh Sidhu of being the hated al-Qaida leader before beating him with metal poles. 

Sidhu, 47, was preparing to close his Northridge liquor store late Monday night when they entered. He said he tried to explain that he was a Sikh and had no association the accused terrorist. But for six minutes, they continued their assault. 

“All the time, they kept hitting me on my head,” he said Friday at a news conference. 

The Los Angeles Police are calling the assault a hate crime, one of more than 100 logged since Sept. 11. Hundreds more that have been reported nationwide — most targeting Arab-Americans, Muslims, Afghan-Americans, Sikhs, Asians and others mistaken for Arabs or Muslims. 

“It was obvious that they were attacking him not because they wanted anything from him but because of what he looked like,” Devonshire Division Capt. Joe Curreri said. 

“They obviously had hate in their minds when they walked into the store. They obviously had hate in their minds before they walked into the store because they had metal pipes with them.” 

Sidhu, who wears a turban and has a long peppered beard — customary of Sikh dress — managed to get away after pushing a shelf over on top of his attackers, causing them to fall on the floor, drop their weapons and run. No arrests have been made. 

He was hospitalized for several hours with head injuries. 

Kirtan-Singh Khalsa, spokesman for the Khalsa Council, an international council for Sikh affairs, said the crime was regrettable but not surprising, noting attacks had increased since Sept. 11. More than 200 have been reported nationwide, he said. 

“We’re deeply concerned by this event. But we are not shocked,” Khalsa said. “Sikhs are accustomed to ridicule because of the wearing of turbans.” 

Ironically, he said Sidhu’s injuries could have been more serious if it weren’t for the head garment. 

Khalsa called the two suspects “knuckleheads” who were unable to deal with their own anger. But he encouraged people of all races to stick together while dealing with this national tragedy. 

“These attacks that we’ve experienced collectively, we must respond to collectively,” he said. 

On Friday, Sidhu was wearing a turban made with American flag fabric which he says he has been wearing since Sept. 11 as a symbol of his love for the country. Although he is hurt by the incident, he said he is not bitter. 

“I feel bad but not angry,” he said. “Most of the people are nice. It’s never happened before. We just have to educate the people on who we are.” 

According to Khalsa, there are approximately 23 million Sikhs worldwide, 500,000 in the United States and 125,000 in California. They have been farming in the state for more than 100 years.