According to one eyewitness who asked not to be identified, some time after 2 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3, a livery taxi pulled up at the corner of 59th Street in Woodside and a young man stepped out of it. Apparently he had stopped to relieve himself on the public street. After a moment, he and his companions encountered a passing Sikh family. Noticing their turbans, they immediately began to shout racial epithets such as “Bin Laden family, go home! Go back to your country or we’ll kill you.”
The Sikh family at first tried to reason with them, assuring them that they were neither Arab nor Muslim. But the young attackers clearly did not know or could not tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh. To onlookers they appeared drunk. Within moments they were each attacking the innocent Sikh man with so much violence that his wife was terrified for his life.
Each of the young men was wearing distinctive clothing. Rugby shirts, soccer tops, one allegedly wore a white T-shirt with a green shamrock. It was clear to eyewitness that they probably lived locally. They all appeared to be around 19 years old. It also appeared that they had been drinking for hours.
It was at this point that Gregory Hodge, an area resident who works for Woodside Pizzeria, happened upon the scene. He saw a Sikh women desperately attempting to stop the young men from attacking her husband, Lakhvir Gill, 32, who had by now been knocked to the ground and was trying to cover his head. Hodge also saw that the men hit the Sikh woman with force. That’s when he decided to intervene.
“I couldn’t believe that this was happening,” Gill’s wife, who requested anonymity, said. “As they beat my husband they were yelling obscene curse words. They were so obscene that I can’t repeat them.”
They stopped the attack at Hodge’s intervention and just before the police cars arrived.
“I heard one of them say, ‘Let’s get out of here’ and they took off running,” said Gill’s wife.
The Gill family has lived in Woodside for nine years and has never encountered this kind of racism before, even in the tense weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, when hundreds of Sikhs throughout the nation reported bias attacks. The Woodside neighborhood, once almost exclusively Irish, is now one of the most ethnically diverse in the world. Racist attacks are relatively uncommon.
“It’s the first time it’s happened in my life,” Gill’s wife told reporters. “It’s very insulting. We live in America. We are American citizens.”
In Charlie’s Bar in Woodside, an Irish pub near to the scene of the attack, there was no sympathy for the attackers.
“They attacked innocent people without provocation,” said one customer, who asked not to be named. “If they do turn out to be Irish, it will be a shame. This is New York and we take a hard view of racism. Hate crimes get tough sentences for a good reason. Because you’re not just attacking the person, you’re attacking the whole group. These lads, if they’re guilty, will pay a price.”
Police searched the neighborhood by foot and by helicopter in the aftermath of the attack. To date there have been no arrests and the investigation continues.