Faith groups are calling for police in New York to conduct a hate crime investigation into a recent attack on a Hindu priest who was walking near his temple in Queens.
Progressive Hindu advocacy group Sadhana released a statement on Sunday calling for the New York City Police Department to investigate the brutal beating of 62-year-old Swami Harish Chander Puri Ji as a hate crime. The release includes a list of community partners and faith leaders who are also calling for the probe.
“Bigotry and xenophobia does not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims, or black or brown skin,” the release stated. “When the US President targets immigrants and refugees and encourages chants of ‘send her back’ at rallies, this results in real harm inflicted on our communities.”
The priest told PIX11 that he was walking down the street in his religious garb Thursday morning near the Shiv Shakti Peeth in Glen Oaks, when a man reportedly came up behind him and started beating him. The priest was taken to the hospital and released Friday. He can be seen with bruises and abrasions all over his face and body in an interview with the local news station.
“I’m in a little pain,” he told PIX11 on Friday night while sitting on a bed at his temple.
People who attend the temple told the station that the attacker allegedly screamed, “this is my neighborhood,” during the incident.
“The remarks uttered by Swami Puri Ji’s attacker are a blatant example of hate speech,” Sadhana wrote in its release.
Police arrested and charged 52-year-old Sergio Gouveia with felony assault and harassment in connection with the attack. PIX11 said police are looking into whether the attack should be investigated as a hate crime, though a police spokesperson told CNN on Sunday that investigators don’t currently believe there is a hate crime component.
The law firm of an attorney representing Gouveia did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Gouveia is expected to next appear in Queens Criminal Court on Sept. 17.
“This type of brutal act is un-American and the person who committed this heinous crime is a coward. People from across the globe call Queens home and we are proud to embrace this rich diversity that exists in our communities and neighborhoods,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “I commend the NYPD for making a swift arrest in this case and I’m confident that justice will be served. I stand with the Hindu community and wish the victim a full recovery.”
The attack came just days after President Donald Trump launched a racist attack on four Democratic congresswomen of color, telling them to “go back” to their countries. All four are U.S. citizens and three were born in America. The remarks escalated at the president’s rally in North Carolina last week when he singled out Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the predominantly white crowd began chanting, “Send her back!” Omar immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee when she was young.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New York chapter also released a statement Sunday calling for a hate crime probe and condemning Trump’s racism.
“We stand by our Hindu brethren during this hardship. No human being should suffer through an assault because of his color or faith,” CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said in a statement. “As hate crimes continue to break record numbers, our President revels in promoting a divisive, racist nation. The president can help our nation heal if he wanted to, but he shamefully chooses to stoke flames for his political gain.”
The priest told PIX11 that he is praying for his attacker.