A Brooklyn man is facing charges related to a string of hate crimes against the Sikh community in Richmond Hill.
Vernon Douglas, 19, has been hit with first and second degree robbery charges as hate crimes, as well as a slew of assault and aggravated harassment charges. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.
A second man, Hezekiah Coleman, 20, has also been charged with Douglas in connection with one of the attacks. The Queens resident could face up to 25 years in prison
The first attack took place In the early hours of Sunday, April 3, near the the intersection of 95th Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
The victim, 70-year-old Nirmal Singh, was punched several times in the face and head, leaving his turban and clothes soaked in his own blood.
Elected officials initially denounced the attack at a community peace rally, held at the corner renamed for the thriving Indian community in the surrounding Southeast Queens neighborhoods, “Little Punjab.”
Just nine days later, on the same block, a second 45-year-old Sikh man was attacked with a stick and robbed of $300.
Minutes later, a third 58-year-old Sikh man was also assaulted and robbed of $200 by the same shirtless Brooklyn teenager.
Douglas was arraigned on Saturday, April 16, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Anthony Battisti on a 13-count criminal complaint. Coleman was arraigned on Wednesday, April 13 before Judge Marty Lentz on a five-count complaint.
“This defendant is accused of targeting three men, all members of the Sikh community who wore turbans at the time of the attacks,” District Attorney Katz said. “We will not tolerate beatings motivated by hate in the borough of Queens – the most diverse county in the world. Our diversity is our strength and no acts of violence will undermine who we are. This defendant, along with his co-defendant, will be held to account for the charges of which they are accused.”
Elected officials were outspoken and condemned the attacks, including Councilwoman Joann Ariola who called on Mayor Eric Adams to “empower the NYPD and our justice system”, as well as calling on fellow City Council members to “wake up”.
New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar condemned the first of what would be a trio of attacks, saying “As the first Punjabi American ever elected to New York State office, I want Nirmal Singh and all members of our community to know that I am here for you. An attack on any Sikh-American is an attack on all Americans.”