Suspect Charged With Hate Crime in Chicago-Area Assault of Sikh American

Officials in Illinois announced Tuesday that the juvenile suspect facing felony charges in the beating of a Sikh-American man will also be charged with a hate crime.

The suspect is accused of allegedly shouting racial slurs, such as “Terrorist” and “Bin Laden,” at 53-year-old Sikh American Inderjit Singh Mukker, then assaulting Mukker in his car. DuPage County State's Attorney Robert B. Berlin first announced Friday that the suspect would face five counts of felony aggravated battery; on Tuesday, the felony charges were amended to include one count of hate crime.

"Crimes based on hatred or prejudices have no place in our society," Berlin said in Tuesday's press release. "Any physical attack motivated in whole or in part by an offender's pre-conceived bias against another individual based on race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is a crime not only against the victim but against society as a whole."

Public officials, interfaith leaders, and community members gathered in Chicago Tuesday in support of Mukker, who told the crowd, “The United States is my country. I am an American--and no American should be judged or attacked because of the color of their skin or their religion.”

South Asian American communities have reportedly been targeted for violence and harassment since September 11, 2001. Sikh Americans wear a turban and beard as articles of their faith, and a 2014 report by the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) found dozens of incidents of hate violence against South Asian American communities that were believed to be motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

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“We are thankful that Robert Berlin and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office have filed a hate crime charge in this case,” Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, told NBC News. “For the Sikh American community, a formal hate crime charge was never about a harsher penalty, but instead prosecuting the crime for what it was. We can’t combat the problem of hatred against minority communities in America unless our elected officials and government agencies acknowledge that the problem exists.”