A Salem (Illinois) man was sentenced Friday to 180 days in jail and ordered to attend a Sikh festival after he pleaded guilty to grabbing a man’s turban during a hate crime attack.
Andrew Ramsey, 25, was arrested on Jan. 14 after he attacked a Sikh store manager by trying to pull off his turban, spitting at him, throwing a shoe at him and pushing him to the ground.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree intimidation for subjecting Harwinder Singh Dodd, the owner of 12th Street Market, to offensive physical contact because of his perceived religion.
“When Mr. Ramsey attacked my turban, he attacked my identity and my core,” Dodd said in a statement Friday. “He attacked a part of me that I cannot change the way you change your clothes or even your hair color. He went so much deeper and attacked my faith, my dignity and my entire community.”
Judge lashes out at bigotry
According to a probable cause statement, Ramsey told police he thought removing Dodd’s turban would disrespect him because he was “Hindu and prays to Vishnu the catfish god.”
He also said he threw his shoe because he knew the action was disrespectful in Middle Eastern countries.
“I came to the United States from India for a better life and opportunities, and I live in Oregon with my wife and children,” Dodd said. “My daughter is in college. I work very hard and long days as a general store owner to support my family … On January 14, 2019, I was attacked while working at my store because of who I am.”
An estimated 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States. According to the civil rights organization Sikh Coalition, Sikh Americans regularly face discrimination, harassment and violence. Following Sept. 11, 2001, the community saw an uptick in hate crimes and a renewed increase in recent years.
“Mistaken identity” is often highlighted as a factor behind many attacks, with assailants mistaking their victim’s turban as an indicator of other religious affiliations, but the Sikh Coalition argues this implies there is a “correct” religious group that should be targeted by bigotry.
“Bigotry is the result of ignorance,” Marion County Judge Lindsay Partridge said during Friday’s sentencing. “All of us are able to learn and benefit from cultures in our community.”
He pointed out that Dodd — a hard-working, law-abiding business owner raising a family — was a valuable member of the community. By contrast, he said Ramsey was a convicted domestic abuser and drug user.
“It is a sad commentary that someone in our community would feel threatened because of how they look,” Partridge said.