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Assemblyman Weprin Leads Rally Against Bias Attacks Targeting Sikhs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- In the wake of a suspected bias attack on a Columbia University professor earlier this month, state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) joined members of the Sikh Cultural Society Sunday in a rally against hate crimes.

City Public Advocate and Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio also joined the rally.

The attack happened a week ago Saturday on 110th Street near Lenox Avenue. Columbia professor Prabhjot Singh, who is Sikh, was approached by a group of 12 to 15 young men on bicycles making anti-Muslim statements, police said.

Some shouted "get Osama" and "terrorist" as the incident progressed, Singh said.

One of the men pulled his beard and as the group fled, they kicked him several times to the body and face, police said.

Weprin said the attack reflects a continued culture of both hate and misunderstanding.

"It's really unfortunate that in 2013, we still have so much ignorance and hate going on against the Sikh community and the South Asian community in general," Weprin told WCBS 880. "Even when we had the first Indian-American Miss America, from Syracuse, New York – Miss New York State – there have been online comments saying she's not really American. Obviously, hate, unfortunately – and a lot of it is ignorance – is still really prevalent."

When Nina Davuluri won the Miss America pageant earlier this month, she was subjected to tweets with such remarks as "Is Miss America even American?!," and "Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11," as well as tweets calling her a terrorist.

Weprin said he has been trying to lead action to stop the culture of prejudice and discrimination.

"Particularly in the Sikh community after 9-11, there have been many, many incidents – too many to mention – and too many bullying incidents in schools. I introduced a bill in Albany that passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly to outlaw discrimination against people wearing turbans or beards for employment anywhere in the state," Weprin said. "That bill has not passed yet in the Senate."

Weprin said the violent attack on Singh was particularly horrifying.

"A medical doctor – a professor of medicine at Columbia University – it was just horrible," he said.

He said federal authorities have taken action.

"We of course, added crimes against Sikhs and South Asians – the FBI has on the federal level – to the categories of national hate crimes, and that's a step in the right direction," Weprin said.

Weprin said Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, but discrimination is not condoned for any group.

Singh also co-wrote a New York Times op-ed last year about the very thing he said happened to him: hate attacks on Sikhs mistaken for Muslims.

According to a Stanford University study sponsored by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers in the U.S. as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto when nearly all turban-wearers in the U.S. adhere to Sikhism, SALDEF said.

In the attack on Singh, the NYPD released surveillance video of a group of young men on bicycles near the scene. They are wanted for questioning in connection with the incident.

The rally Sunday was held in front of the cultural society at 95-30 118th St. in Richmond Hill, Queens – the largest Sikh temple in New York State.

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