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‘ISIS. Terrorist. Let’s get him’: Sikh man’s attacker found guilty of hate crime

It was 7 a.m. the day after Christmas in 2015, and Amrik Singh Bal, a 68-year-old Sikh man, had just left his house in Fresno, Calif., to go to work.

Like many Sikhs, Bal wore a full beard, dressed in a robe and wrapped his head in a turban. He was waiting in the pre-dawn dark for his ride to come get him when a black Dodge Challenger pulled up and two young men got out.

Without warning, they started throwing punches and cursing at him.

“Why are you here?” one of them yelled as they beat him in the face with their fists.

Bal tried to defend himself with his lunch bag and a water bottle.

“Please don’t kill me,” he told them, according to the Fresno Bee.

The worst was yet to come.

When the beating ended, the attackers got back in their car and sped toward him. Bal tried to run, but the car crashed into him, knocking him over and causing his head to slam against the pavement, according to police.

Bal lay unconscious in the middle of the road for six minutes before his friends found him. He was hospitalized for a broken collar bone, swollen jaw and multiple cuts, police said.

It took three months, but police found two suspects and charged them with felony assault and hate crimes.

One of them, 17-year-old Alexis Mendoza, never got to stand trial. After pleading not guilty in April, he committed suicide, the Fresno Bee reported. He was facing 13 years in prison and would have been tried as an adult.

The other, Daniel Wilson, had his day in court this week. On Wednesday, a jury found him guilty of felony assault causing great bodily injury, finding it a hate crime because he was motivated by anti-religious fervor, the Fresno Bee reported. Jurors deliberated for two hours before delivering their verdict, which could carry an eight-year sentence, according to the Bee.

Prosecutors have pursued numerous hate crime cases in recent years following an uptick in high-profile assaults against U.S. Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims because of their appearance. The country’s roughly 500,000 Sikhs have been targeted in increasing numbers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, advocacy groups say. In one of the deadliest attacks on the religion in the United States, a gunman in 2012 shot and killed six people in a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee before killing himself.

Several days after Bal was attacked, the Obama administration sent Melissa Rogers, head of the White House’s faith outreach office, to a gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship, in Rockville, Md., where she told worshipers that “all faith communities here and all over the world stand against hate-motivated violence.” Rogers was the highest-ranking representative from the Obama administration to attend a Sikh gathering at a gurdwara, one Sikh advocacy group told The Washington Post at the time.

The attack on Bal, captured on video by security cameras in the neighborhood, horrified Sikhs in California’s San Joaquin Valley, which some 30,000 observers of the religion call home.

At Wilson’s trial this week, prosecutor Timothy Donovan said Wilson, 23, believed Bal was a “terrorist” because of his religious garb.

“It’s a hate crime because the victim was judged by the clothing he wore and by his faith,” Donovan said, according to the Bee. He said Wilson encouraged Mendoza to help him assault Bal by saying “ISIS. Terrorist. Let’s get him.”

Blurry footage from a private home security camera shows the most severe moment of the attack.

In it, a dark car can be seen tearing around a corner in a residential neighborhood, headlights illuminated. On the other side of the road, a person in light-colored clothing watches, then makes a run for it. As the person races across the street, the car speeds up, veers into his path, then slams him from behind before accelerating out of sight.

At trial, defense attorney Marina Pincus argued that the video and other evidence were inconclusive, and that Wilson was innocent. She told the court that no one saw him assault Bal and that video of the attack does not show who was driving the car, according to the Bee.

Over objections from his attorney, Wilson was ordered held without bail until his sentencing Dec. 2, the Bee reported.

The verdict comes less than two weeks after prosecutors in the San Francisco Bay area filed hate crime charges against two men who allegedly beat a Sikh man in his car as he was stopped at a red light. The men are accused of punching Maan Singh Khalsa in the face, ripping off his turban and cutting off his long hair, which many Sikh men do not cut as a religious observance, as reported by The Post.

Photos of Khalsa in the hospital were circulated widely following the Sept. 25 attack, which occurred as Khalsa was going home from work.

“The attackers caused physical injuries and deep harm when they targeted my Sikh faith,” Khalsa said in a statement. “I urge a thorough investigation so we can address the tide of violence and bigotry in this country.”

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