State prosecutors in Illinois have added a hate crime charge to previous aggravated battery charges filed against a teenager accused of assaulting a Sikh man during a road-rage incident and calling him “Bin Laden.”
The DuPage County State's Attorney Robert B. Berlin decision to take on the charges Tuesday came just hours before a Sikh organization planned a public rally demanding a hate crime charge, the Chicago Tribune reported. Instead, the rally applauded the prosecutor’s decision and supported Inderjit Singh Mukker, the 53-year-old victim of the Sept. 8 assault in Darien, Ill., a suburb west of Chicago.
About 100 rally supporters called for an end to racism and hate targeting religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, the newspaper reported. Demonstrators carried signs saying,“Americans Stand Together” and “Do Not Freak, I am a Sikh.”
A photo of the victim's beaten face was on one sign that said, “If I Google (the photo), I get hate crime.”
“This is my country,” Mukker said. “This is my home. I am an American.”
Mukker is a taxi driver who has lived in Darien for 27 years with his wife, who is a nurse. His daughter is studying to be a nurse and his son is a college student.
“I'm a proud husband and father, and I want my family to be free in who they are and what they believe,” Mukker said.
The Sikh Coalition applauded the hate crime charges, the newspaper reported. Coalition members met with prosecutors and provided what they described as additional evidence showing hatred was the motivation behind the crime.
"For the Sikh American community, a formal hate crime charge was never about a harsher penalty, but instead prosecuting the crime for what it was," Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition's legal director, said.
“We can't combat the problem of hatred against minority communities in America unless our elected officials and government agencies acknowledge that the problem exists,” the Sikh Coalition attorney said.
Late last week, the state's attorney's office filed four felony counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated battery to a police officer against the 17-year-old suspect. The prosecutor hasn’t decided if the case will be heard in juvenile court or referred to adult court, where penalties are more severe.
The assault occurred on Sept. 8. Police reported finding Mukker in the front of his car with “cuts and bruises on his cheeks.”
Following a “road-rage incident,” Mukker and the defendant pulled their cars to the side of the road before the teenager approached Mukker's vehicle. "Following an exchange of words between the two, the teenager allegedly punched Mukker in the face as he sat in his vehicle."
The assailant called Mukker “Bin Laden” and told him to go back to his own country. The teen, who isn’t identified in public court documents, then fled.
Given the assailant’s license plate, police went to his home where he resisted arrest and allegedly punched an officer in the face.