Last week, a religiously observant Sikh American Uber driver and father was physically assaulted and verbally abused by a customer in Bellingham, Washington.
Per reporting by the Bellingham Herald, Grifin Levi Sayers was arrested after he attempted to strangle his Sikh Uber driver in the early morning hours on Thursday, December 5th.
The driver is a visibly observant Sikh who maintains his articles of faith, including a turban and unshorn hair. Leading up to and during the attack, Sayers shouted racist accusations regarding the driver’s Indian heritage, skin color, turban, and beard before attempting to strangle him. The driver was ultimately able to escape Sayers on foot and called 911 immediately afterwards.
The Sikh Uber driver, who wishes to remain anonymous, has retained the Sikh Coalition for pro bono legal support. Sayers was arrested and later released on bail; meanwhile, Bellingham Police are currently investigating bias as a motivator in the attack and considering charging Sayers with a hate crime, as is applicable under Washington state law.
“This was very clearly a hate crime under the definition of the law,” said Amrith Kaur, Sikh Coalition Legal Director. “The attacker knew his Uber driver was Sikh, and he chose to both physically and verbally attack him because of it. We are thankful that the Bellingham Police Department are investigating bias as a motivator, and we trust that the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will appropriately charge him with a hate crime moving forward.”
There are approximately 60,000 to 75,000 Sikhs and 15 gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship) in Washington, with Bellingham one of the major population centers. Per the Sikh Coalition’s monitoring of public media accounts, hate crimes reported to law enforcement, and private reporting since 2015, the Sikh Coalition estimates that Washington is the third most dangerous state in the nation for Sikhs despite the community’s presence in the area for more than 125 years.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the member of our community who experienced this horrific attack,” said Jasmit Singh, a Sikh American leader in the greater Seattle area. “No one, regardless of background, ever deserves to experience this disgusting bigotry and violence--and we cannot overlook how these types of incidents can spread fear throughout minority communities like ours.”
Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with approximately 500,000 adherents in the United States. Many practicing Sikhs are visually distinguishable by their articles of faith, which include, as mentioned above, the unshorn hair and turban. By the Sikh Coalition’s estimation, Sikh Americans remain hundreds of times more likely to experience bigotry, bias, and backlash than their fellow Americans.