New York, NY, USA – After two and a half days of deliberations, the jury found Umair Ahmed guilty of menacing in the second degree as a hate crime, coercion in the second degree as a hate crime, harassment, and possession of a deadly weapon, in an incident where a Sikh high-school student’s hair was forcibly cut on May 24, 2007. It is against a Sikh’s religious practice to cut his/her hair, as kesh (unshorn hair) is one of the five articles of faith that a Sikh must keep at all times.
Commenting on the case, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown stated, “The defendant has been convicted of a serious attack on the fundamental beliefs of his victim’s religion and his freedom to worship freely. Crimes of hate will never be tolerated here in Queens County – in particular the most culturally diverse county in the nation.”
The trial began on Friday, February 29th and lasted approximately six days. Ahmed, wearing a suit and glasses, did not appear to show any emotion when the verdict was read. Depending on whether or not Ahmed is treated as a youthful offender or as an adult, he could face up to four years in prison.
During the deliberations, jurors asked to be re-charged on the crime of menacing, asked to hear the victim’s testimony regarding the large ring Ahmed used to intimidate him, and also to hear the testimony of two other witnesses. One of the witnesses was at the lunchroom table where the conflict began, and the other was a school safety agent who signed the boys out of the lunchroom to go to the restroom, where the victim’s hair was cut.
The victim, currently 16-years-old, testified for approximately 6-7 hours on Monday, and for another 3-4 hours on Wednesday, being subjected to rigorous cross examination where the Defendant’s attorney attempted to convince the jury that his testimony was not credible. “The victim showed an incredible amount of resilience under the pressure of the Defense attorney, and did exactly what he was supposed to do — tell the truth,” said Jaspreet Singh, Staff Attorney for UNITED SIKHS. “We are thankful that the perpetrator has been convicted, and that the jurors recognized that this was not a simple incident of hair cutting; freedom of religious practice must be preserved.”
According to the testimony at trial, following an argument between the then 15-year-old victim and Ahmed, Ahmed made a threat on May 23, 2007 that he would beat the victim up and send him home naked, which led to the victim to take a different route home. On the 24th, the victim was approached in the school cafeteria by Ahmed, who declared, “I have to cut your hair.” After the victim explained to Ahmed that cutting hair was against his religion, the latter showed signs of becoming violent, and threatened to punch the victim with a ring. Feeling threatened by Ahmed’s behaviour and the fact that Ahmed was wielding the ring and a pair of scissors, the Sikh student feared for his safety and followed his attacker’s instructions to go to the restroom with him. It was in a closed stall of the restroom that Ahmed, with his arm across the back of the victim, cut the Sikh student’s hair. Another student, who entered the restroom after the incident began, told a school safety agent that something was going on.
“It was a difficult trial for the prosecutor because they did not have any witnesses to the actual incident other than the victim. Also, it was difficult to convey the importance of hair for a Sikh to the jury, and to convey the depth of fear Ahmed had instilled into the victim,” said Tejinder Singh, Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS. “The jury saw through the attempts by the defense to suggest that the victim wanted his hair cut, and convicted Ahmed of all charges. UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh Community would like to thank the State Attorney’s Office, specifically Assistant District Attorney Michael Brovner, for their excellent work on this case.”
Ahmed is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11, 2008.
You may read a previous press release on a hate crime victim assisted by UNITED SIKHS at:
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
1 646 315 3909