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Boro Hall protesters decry Richmond Hill Sikh assault

Local politicians, members of several religious organizations and community groups joined Borough President Helen Marshall in condemning the July 10 attack on Rajinder Singh Khalsa, 50, who suffered fractures to his nose and eye socket.

"Religious freedom is the bedrock of our democracy," Marshall said. "When one of us is attacked because of our race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, then we are all under attack."

The rally was organized by the New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a coalition of 30 groups that want to end bias crimes in the city. The rally brought together nearly 100 people to express their outrage toward hate crimes in New York City, particularly the most recent attack on Khalsa.

"Communities, government and all sectors must do better at working together to stop hate crimes in New York City," NICE Executive Director Bryan Pu-Folkes said. "And they must do it right away."

Khalsa was on his way to have tea with his cousin, when he was attacked by five or six men outside the Il Palazzodi Villa Russo on Lefferts Boulevard at 101st Street.

Police arrested Salvatore Maceli, 26, of Valley Stream, L.I. in the attack. Maceli was charged with assault as a hate crime and with aggravated harassment.

Members of the Sikh community have expressed outrage toward the 102nd Precinct in Richmond Hill, alleging the police have not done their part to bring the others who perpetrated the attack to justice.

Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amardeep Singh spoke of the challenges the Sikh community has faced since Sept. 11 and demanded the 102nd Precinct work harder to prosecute these crimes, arguing the latest attack was only one of many on the Sikh people.

"We haven't seen any bias crime prosecutions since Sept. 11 even though bias crimes have occurred against our community," Singh said. "This is a tipping point for our community with regard to our perception of the system of justice in Richmond Hill, in Queens and in this country."

State Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin spoke of the times he had spent with Sikhs in their homes and houses of prayer, calling them "peaceful people." McLaughlin asked his fellow politicians and the people of Queens to play an active role in the fight against bias crimes.

"In New York City and especially in Queens County, we boast that we are the most ethnically diverse of all of the boroughs. That is just not a bumper sticker," McLaughlin said. "With diversity must come responsibility and commitment."

Singh said the way police and members of the community respond to the attack will have a lasting effect on the Sikh community in Richmond Hill.

"We live in the most diverse county not just in American perhaps in the planet," Singh said. "And if in this part of the world someone can say 'Go back to your country,' refer to our article of faith as 'a dirty, dirty curtain' and then get away with it...then there's really something wrong with the system of justice in our adopted homeland."

City Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) argued that in order to stop these attacks, communities take one step further and look into their homes.

"We need to stop the racist talk at the dining table," he said. "When we stop that talk and stop learning that when you're Korean or Chinese, you have to live in Flushing, that when you're black, you don't have to live in southern Queens, that just because you're Indian or Sikh you don't have to live in Richmond Hill but that you can live together, then we'll stop these kinds of attacks."

Later in the day more than 50 Sikhs joined elected officials on the steps of City Hall to protest the assault on Khalsa, who attended the event with the help of two men who supported him as he walked.

"The people of New York will not stand for such blatant hatred," said City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis).

"The Sikh community is comprised of honest and law-abiding citizens," he said. "They should not be forced to walk our streets in fear of discrimination. The bias crimes must stop now."

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) called on federal officials, including "this so-called president, George Bush" to recognize the need to crack down on crimes based on racial and ethnic prejudice.

Khalsa, who appeared the worse for the beating he suffered, spoke briefly, thanking everyone for their support and ending his remarks by saying "God Bless America."

City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez (D-Manhattan) said "an ill wind" was blowing from the Bush administration in the form of a tendency to blame immigrant communities in the fight against terrorism.

Following the protest, a celebration of the Sikh New Year was held inside City Hall and hosted by Weprin.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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