Thirty advocacy organizations are demanding justice for a Sikh man who they believe was the victim of an alleged hate crime in Richmond because he wears a turban.
Maan Singh Khalsa, 41, was viciously attacked while idling at a red light on Sept. 25. Sheriff's deputies have arrested Chase Byron Little, 31, of Texas, and Dustin Micheal Albarado, 25, of Louisiana, former contractors at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, on felony assault charges. A third suspect escaped.
In a letter to Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson, groups on Thursday expressed "deep concern" about the brutality and urged prosecutors to charge the suspects with hate crimes.
Signatories include the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Sikh Coalition and Take on Hate. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Police Chief Allwyn Brown are also copied on the email.
Prosecutors told NBC Bay Area that they expect charges to be filed on Friday.
Three men, traveling in a white, four-door truck, are accused of throwing a half-full beer can at Khalsa. They also followed him to a second red light and beat him through the window.
“They were beating his face mercilessly,” said Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition's legal director and Khalsa's attorney. “His turban got knocked off and they yelled, ‘Cut his f***ing hair!’ and one of them cut his hair with a knife.”
The Sikh community was incensed by the aggression because Khalsa's "turban and unshorn hair and beard" are "religiously mandated articles of faith," the letter said.
According to a police report, Khalsa raised his arm to defend himself from the suspects, and his finger was cut by a knife one of them was carrying.
"As a result of the attack, Mr. Khalsa sustained cuts on his fingers and hands that required stiches, a swollen black eye, damage to his teeth, and deep humiliation," the organizations stressed in their letter.
Fawaz Alnaami, the victim's roommate, said he was horrified to see Khalsa battered, bruised and slashed.
Khalsa is one of the kindest people he knows, Alnaami said, and spends hours volunteering at the El Sobrante Sikh temple, where he helps elderly people and others in need.
"He's a very calm person, he would not hurt a fly," he insisted. "He would not hesitate to help any person."
Khalsa, an IT specialist for the Social Security Administration, has suffered emotionally since the attack, and just learned that his finger will need to be amputated, Alnaami said.
"This is insane," he said. "It's shocking, discomforting for sure."
Peterson's office said the attack is being investigated as a hate crime, but activists are outraged that the suspects have not been formally charged for their demonstration of "bias and hate."
"We believe that Mr. Khalsa was targeted and assaulted because of his actual or perceived race/ethnicity, religion and nationality, given that the attack was unprovoked and the assailants intentionally targeted his articles of faith," the letter continued.
Khalsa told police that he believes the men targeted him because they mistook him for a Muslim, the police report showed.
Activists echoed the same sentiment, stressing to Peterson that Sikhs have been a "vulnerable" minority following 9/11 and have often been subjected to verbal and physical harassment.
After Khalsa was accosted, they wrote, the roughly 5,000 people who pray at the nearby El Sobrante Sikh temple live in terror of being similarly attacked.
"It is vital that hate crimes are appropriately investigated, documented and prosecuted," the signatories wrote. "Failure to do so silences and further marginalizes communities that experience bias-motivated violence and discourages them from reporting acts of violence committed against their communities."
According to a statement issued by Chevron, Little and Albarado lost their jobs following their arrest.
It said: "Chevron regrets this very unfortunate incident and does not tolerate this type of behavior of its employees or contractors. Chevron has spoken to its contractor regarding their employees and have confirmed these individuals have been terminated. Additionally, Chevron will ensure the individuals committing these alleged acts are suspended from entering the refinery under any other employer."