Tuesday, April 13, 2004

UNC Sikh student called "Bin Laden," assaulted, but no hate crime charged as of yet?

3 teens held in Sikh assault

Apr 2, 2004 : 8:00 pm ET

CHAPEL HILL -- A Sikh student at UNC claims he and his friend were beaten by a trio of teenagers on Franklin Street after one of them called him Osama bin Laden.

Chapel Hill police charged each of the teens with assault inflicting serious injury and simple assault after the student identified them shortly after the assault Sunday morning. Although police categorized the assault as a hate crime, they did not charge the teens with ethnic intimidation -- the state statute that covers hate crimes.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Gregg Jarvies said the charge of ethnic intimidation was not filed because it was not clear whether the assault occurred because of the victim's race, clothing or religion.

The charge of ethnic intimidation would have to be provable, Jarvies said. "You may believe one thing, but we can't prove it," he said.

Gagandeep Bindra, who has a short beard, brown skin and wears a Patka, a scarf wrapped around his hair, said that it is not uncommon for people to call him and others with brown skin Osama bin Laden or a terrorist.

"This is like a normal occurrence after 9/11," Bindra said Friday. "Every night when I go out to Franklin Street, someone shouts out bin Laden."

Bindra's parents emigrated from India, and Bindra attended middle school and high school in Raleigh. He is a senior economics major at UNC.

People who have brown skin get harassed all the time, he said. "They don't know I'm from India and I'm a Sikh. They think anybody brown is Middle Eastern. Anybody brown is a terrorist."

The way people treated him after 9/11 changed, he said, but he expected he would be safe in a college community.

"[The assault was] just shocking at a university campus," Bindra said. "Franklin Street is supposedly the heart of Chapel Hill, and you basically get beaten. That's literally what happened, we were beaten by these guys."

The incident began shortly after midnight Sunday as Bindra, 24, and a couple of friends were walking from East Franklin Street to a restaurant on West Franklin Street, the student recounted.

As the group of friends walked along West Franklin Street near the intersection of Church Street, they crossed paths with three young men, he said. "Basically, they shouted bin Laden to me," he said. "I wasn't too happy."

Bindra said he replied, "Your mother."

One of the young men began asking him, "What did you say? What did you say?" Bindra said, but he and his friends kept walking west on Franklin Street. At the intersection of Mallette Street on the north side of Franklin Street, the teens caught up to them and one of them, who was about six feet tall, pushed his face one inch from his face, Bindra said.

"He was trying to look at me to see if there was some sort of fear," he said. "I didn't really care that he was so close to my face, so he just threw a punch."

The blow landed on Bindra's jaw, he said.

One of Bindra's friends, Sean Michnowicz, told the other two teens not to join the fight, and they began to hit him, Bindra said. "They started beating him, and they all started beating me. It was gang mentality at that point.

"After they got done with me, I saw Sean. He was down, and there was blood pouring from his face," Bindra said. "He has hemophilia, and blood was gushing out from a laceration."

The attack was unprovoked, Bindra said. "I didn't hit them. Sean didn't hit them," he said.

After the trio of teens left, heading east on Franklin Street, a female friend called 911 on her cellphone asking for an ambulance, and the dispatcher asked for a description of the men who assaulted them, Bindra said. She gave it to the dispatcher.

One officer came to help Bindra and Michnowicz, while other officers went looking for the suspects. They found them not far away, and Bindra identified them.

Michnowicz was transported to UNC Hospitals, where he received four stitches for the cut. Under doctor's advice, he stayed the night at the hospital for observation because of the hemophilia and because he has a history of seizures, Bindra said.

Police charged Kenneth Antwaine Perry, 19, of 2534 Gemena Road, A, Chapel Hill, with misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury, simple assault and also served a warrant taken out earlier in the week for second-degree trespassing. A magistrate released him on a written promise to appear in court.

Police also charged Perry's younger brother, Frederick Perry, 17, of the same address, with misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and simple assault. A magistrate released him on a written promise to appear in court.

Police charged Antonio Burnette, 18, of 311 Lindsay St., A, Chapel Hill, with misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and simple assault. After searching him and allegedly discovering drugs in his pants, police also charged him with possession of marijuana for having 2.5 grams of marijuana and possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine for having 12 dosage units of crack cocaine, a police report said.

The magistrate set his bond at $5,000, and he was transported to the Orange County Jail.

For national crime reporting purposes, Chapel Hill police classified the incident as an "anti-multiracial group hate crime," said Jane Cousins of the Chapel Hill Police.

A charge called ethnic intimidation, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor, allows police to charge a a person, who because of race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin assaults another or damages or defaces their property, according to "North Carolina Crimes, A Guidebook on the Elements of Crime," by UNC professor Robert L. Farb.

Gregg Jarvies said it was not clear whether the assault occurred because of Bindra's race, clothing or religion or because he had made the comment, "Your mother," to the teenagers.

"It leaves a question why did the guy throw a punch," Jarvies said. "Did he throw the punch because he was a Sikh or did he throw it because he insulted his mother?"

Since Jan. 1, 2003, Chapel Hill police have classified 11 incidents as hate crimes for national crime reporting statistics, Cousins said. "They've ranged from insults to aggravated assaults. We've had fights and vandalism, and the targets have been white, black, Hispanic, multi-racial groups and Jewish," she said. "None this year have been for sexual orientation."

The last time the department charged someone with ethnic intimidation was in October 2003, when police charged a man for yelling racial slurs as he assaulted another man, Cousins said.

In February 2002, police charged ethnic intimidation after a man used a racial slur against a woman during an argument in which he assaulted her, Cousins said.

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