Today’s news:

Sikhs blast Lefferts Blvd. attack

Rajinder Singh Khalsa Ji, 50, of Ozone Park suffered multiple fractures to his nose and eye socket from the beating outside a Richmond Hill catering hall, a Jamaica Hospital spokesman said.

With the help of witnesses, 102nd Precinct police arrested Salvatore Maceli, 26, of Valley Stream, L.I., in connection with the attack. The New York Post reported he had just attended the christening of his son.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Maceli has been charged with assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment. He could face up to four years in prison if convicted.

The district attorney said Khalsa Ji and another Sikh man were taunted by a group of persons who called their turbans "dirty curtains" and demanded they remove them from their heads.

Khalsa Ji was attacked by five or six men in front of Il Palazzo di Villa Russo, a catering hall on the Lefferts Boulevard and 101st Street corner, police said.

The New York Times reported that Khalsa Ji and the other man believe Maceli and the others involved were drunk after attending the christening inside the catering hall.

Brown said the incident would not be taken lightly.

"Crimes motivated by bias - particularly those involving violence - can never be tolerated," he said. "When they do regrettably occur, they will be vigorously prosecuted and severely punished."

Members of the Sikh community gathered outside the 102nd Precinct to demand others involved in Khalsa Ji's beating be brought to justice. The precinct includes an area containing many Sikh residents.

About 60 Sikhs, both men and women, chanted, "We love America" and "We demand justice" amid outbursts of anger and accusations that police were not doing their best to investigate the attack.

Protesters held signs and threw up their hands in both anger and emotion, hoping to educate the 102nd Precinct and American citizens about their religion.

Supreet Kaur, a member of the Sikh Coalition, a group of Sikhs united to express issues of importance to their religion, expressed frustration with how police have handled the investigation of the attack.

"I think the community is really upset about the hate crime and the lack of response from the police in dealing with the issues," Kaur said. "They feel like the police haven't been taking this seriously and haven't been as responsive as we'd like them to be."

Officials at the 102nd Precinct did not return calls for comment from the TimesLedger.

"I think the community is concerned about the message this is sending out to members who are quite alarmed about such a brutal attack happening right here in Richmond Hill," Kaur said.

The Sikhs came together in hopes of explaining to the public they are wrongly associated with being terrorists.

Jagjit Singh Bedi shouted out pleas for Sikhs to be shown respect as equals and American citizens.

"My request to everyone is please treat us like human beings. We are a loving people," said Bedi. "Don't treat us like animals. Don't treat us like slaves. We are Americans - just treat us that way."

Swaranjit Singh, the president of the World Sikh Peace Foundation, said people must understand that Sikhs are a separate religion from Islam. Singh believes this misconception contributes greatly to the bias attacks on Sikhs like Khalsa Ji.

"Because of how the media has portrayed Osama Bin Laden, people think these guys wear turbans so they must follow Osama Bin Laden," he said. "People still think Sikhs are part of Islam and are trying to harass Sikhs because of that. Sikhs should not be hated for other people's crimes."

Since the aftermath of Sept. 11 Sikhs have remained vulnerable to attacks in New York City, and areas with large Sikh populations such as Richmond Hill.

Harpreet Singh Toor, president of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, said the attacks have destroyed the essential freedoms members of the community came to this country to have.

"We believed we had that freedom to practice our religion, but now our community has to walk around and watch and be careful, because we don't know who's around," he said. "As soon as we see things are getting better and let our guard down, something like this just goes and happens again."

Sikh leaders said they hoped that Americans and the U.S. government understand they will not tolerate attacks against their people quietly.

"These are attacks against our religion and our freedoms," Sing Toor said. "First they attack our religion, and then scare us into having to hide and we lose the freedom to live. Our freedom of religion has been taken away slowly but surely and that should never be tolerated."

Reach editorial intern Mallory Simon by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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