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'This is happening everyday:' NYC driver charged with hate crime in death of Sikh man


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Eduardo Cuevas Minnah Arshad


Nov. 1


Prosecutors say an argument over a minor fender bender spiraled into an ugly hate crime when a driver in Queens, New York, called a Sikh man "turban man" and pummeled him in the head, causing a fatal fall.

The incident along the Van Wyck Expressway last month prompted Sikh community members and the family of the man who died to press for more law enforcement action and justice for Jasmer Singh, 66, and other Sikh people, who are often mistaken for Muslim people or others who also face discrimination.

“This is happening everyday,” Singh's son, Subeg Multani, told USA TODAY. “I raise my voice for my father because no one ever took any concrete action for the safety of the people who look different.”

Gilbert Augustin, 30, of Queens, was arraigned Tuesday on charges of manslaughter and assault as hate crimes. His lawyer, James Concemore Neville at the Legal Aid Society, said that based on initial evidence and speaking with Augustin, the incident was a minor car accident that resulted in a dispute with “very, very unfortunate consequences.” He urged patience to let the court process unfold and said it wasn't a hate crime.

“To call it such only inflames and diminishes what we’re all going through in the world today with so many wars and so much strife,” Neville told USA TODAY.

A Queens man has been charged with manslaughter and assault as hate crimes after he punched Jasmer Singh, 66, pictured here, following a fender bender on Oct. 19, 2023, in New York City. Singh planned to visit his native Punjab, India, with his wife just days later.

Multani said his father, who had two other children, was a religious man who had immigrated to Queens from Punjab, India, around 1991 and worked in construction before becoming a taxi driver.

Now retired, Singh and his wife, Jaswinder Kaur, had suitcases packed to return to their hometown, Hoshiarpur, on Oct. 24 to stay for the winter. They were coming back from the doctor’s office on Oct. 19 when the crash happened, Multani said. Kaur was in the passenger’s seat of their blue Toyota. 

Expressway accident leads to Singh’s death

Just before noon on Oct. 19, Singh's car hit a black Ford Mustang driven by Augustin on the expressway. In a news release, prosecutors said that after pulling over, Augustin got out of his car and approached Singh, who was still inside his car, according to a witness.

The two then got in an argument, prosecutors said. According to the witness, Augustin told Singh, “No police, no police,” and repeatedly called him “turban man.” Augustin then said he wouldn’t allow Singh to go home and didn’t want Singh to call police. 

Prosecutors, citing witness testimony and video surveillance, said Augustin reached into Singh’s car and grabbed his cellphone. Singh got out of his car and followed Augustin. The two began to argue, and Singh got his phone back.

But as Singh was walking back to his car, prosecutors said, Augustin punched him three times in the head and face. One punch caused Singh’s turban to fall off. Singh fell backward and the back of his head hit the pavement. 

Augustin got in his car and drove away, prosecutors said. Singh's fall resulted in a brain injury and he was taken to the hospital. He died the next day.

That same day, a police officer saw Augustin in his car in Jamaica, Queens. His Mustang had scratches and a small dent toward the rear side of the car. During the stop, Augustin couldn’t provide a valid driver’s license or insurance. State DMV records showed he had a suspended license and he was taken into custody.

“This is a case of a fender bender immediately escalating to hateful language and then brutal, deadly violence,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “We will show in court that it was a rage inflamed by hate that led to this senseless tragedy.”

Prosecutors charged Augustin with 20 counts in the indictment, which included manslaughter and assault as hate crimes, fleeing the scene, and driving with a suspended license. The New York City Police Department did not initially investigate the case as a hate crime despite calls from Singh’s family and advocates

In an emailed response, NYPD officials said “new information came to light” during the DA’s grand jury investigation that weren’t originally revealed to detectives. The NYPD didn’t clarify what new findings changed the case.

Augustin pleaded not guilty in a Queens courtroom Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, Mayor Eric Adams said in a post on X: “Standing with the Sikh community against hate.”

Neville, Augustin's lawyer called the case a “sad, tragic one” and expressed condolences to the victim’s family and his community. 

“I do not think that this was a hate crime,” he told USA TODAY.

Augustin is set to return to court on Dec. 6. He is currently held at the Rikers Island jail complex, city Department of Corrections records show.

Son says Sikh people often don't report attacks but hate crimes escalating

In their Queens neighborhood of Richmond Hill, Singh's son Multani told USA TODAY that attacks against Sikh people are common. Sikh people often don't report crimes against them due to fears around immigration status and language barriers, and law enforcement takes little notice, he added.

Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Sikh man wearing a turban and face mask was assaulted on a New York City bus. According to police, a person repeatedly punched the teen, attempted to forcibly remove his turban, and yelled: "We don’t wear that in this country and take that mask off!"

Katz, the Queens DA, announced Christopher Philippeaux was charged with assault in the third degree as a hate crime and aggravated harassment in the second degree, following an investigation by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force.

Assaults against the Sikh community sharply rose in the United States following the 9/11 attacks. The Sikh Coalition documented more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination across the country in just the first month after Sept. 11, 2001. The group said it has since received thousands of reports from members of the Sikh community about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling.

Jewish and Muslim communities across the nation have also reported rising assaults since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concerns to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Monday about “domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities,” citing recent incidents.

On Oct. 15, an Illinois man was charged with first-degree murder and hate crime after he allegedly stabbed a 6-year-old boy to death and seriously injured his mother. Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American Muslim boy, was fatally stabbed 26 times in his home on Oct. 14. Haanan Shahin, 32, was stabbed more than a dozen times and survived with serious injuries. Joseph Czuba, 71, allegedly yelled “You Muslims must die” during the attack.

Over the weekend, antisemitic threats were posted to a Cornell University fraternity and sorority forum. At least one post threatened a shooting and used hateful language toward Jewish people at Cornell's Center for Jewish Living and kosher dining hall, according to the university's Hillel chapter. Some threatened to kill or rape Jewish students. The incident prompted response from the police and elected officials.

Multani, Jasmer Singh’s son, said he’d like to see more awareness for his Sikh community, which now has elected officials in Canada and in the U.S. He pointed to attacks against Sikh people after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We are not living in 2001 anymore,” he said. “It’s 2023. They should have known that.”



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