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While the courts push to prosecute a 21-year-old filmmaker who allegedly stabbed a Muslim cab driver from Jamaica last week in Manhattan, the governor, mayor and activist groups are calling for an end to racially antagonizing rhetoric.
Michael Enright was indicted Monday on several charges in Manhattan Criminal Court, including attempted murder as a hate crime, and was remanded without bail for his attack against Ahmad Sharif last week, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA’s office said.
At a news conference last Thursday outside City Hall shortly after he and his family met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sharif, 43, said he still sees the knife that stabbed him in his neck, face and shoulders every time he closes his eyes.
The Bangladeshi immigrant and father of four was driving Enright through Manhattan around 6 p.m. when the School of Visual Arts student asked the driver about his religious beliefs and then reached through the cab’s divider to attack him, police said.
“Of course, it was for my religion — he attack me after he know I was a Muslim,” said the cab driver, who had trouble speaking because of his injuries.
Enright, who hails from Brewster, N.Y., had recently been overseas in Afghanistan filming a documentary and allegedly screamed “Assalaumu Alaikum,” an Arabic greeting and salutation that translates to “Peace be upon you,” and later, “Consider this a checkpoint” before stabbing the driver, according to investigators.
He was quickly arrested and taken to Bellevue Hospital for evaluation because of “erratic” behavior, according to city Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who also attended the news conference. Kelly said Enright had been drinking since 2 p.m. that day and was still talking erratically when questioned by officers.
“He made a statement — they ‘violated my constitutional rights’ and ‘I’m Jewish,’” the commissioner said before adding that he did not believe the suspect was Jewish.
Although Sharif said Enright never mentioned anything about the controversial plans to build an Islamic community center several blocks from the World Trade Center site, New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said the heated speeches by opponents of the plan is stoking prejudice against Muslims, who she said make up half of the city’s taxi workers.
“Fear-mongering leads to hate crimes. Fear-mongering is at the heart of what happened to Ahmad Sharif,” she said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who welcomed Sharif’s family to City Hall and gave them gift bags as a sign of support, also called for more tolerance among New Yorkers.
“Whether it is related to anything or not, it is disgraceful. We should feel safe on our streets,” he said.
Gov. David Paterson, who has attempted to negotiate with the Islamic center’s developers to find a different location for the project known as Park51, shared a similar sentiment in a statement.
“The potential for this kind of violence is one of the reasons why I have called publicly for a respectful and unifying conversation about the Park51 project. I continue to offer my assistance for an open dialogue that I believe will help to bring New Yorkers together,” he said.
The commissioner said neither the Park51 issue nor anti-Muslim sentiments were involved with an arrest at the Iman mosque on Steinway Street in Astoria Wednesday night. An unidentified, intoxicated man went into the house of worship during a prayer service with a beer can in his hand and urinated on the floor, Kelly said.
He was eventually subdued by the worshipers until officers arrived and he has been charged with criminal trespass, according to the commissioner.
Kelly said his hate crime unit is currently investigating the incident.
In the meantime, Sharif said he is still shocked by the attack, but with the support of New Yorkers, he is getting better.
“The city must be safe for everyone,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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