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State Attorney General James Calls Unprovoked Attack On Hindu Priest In Queens A Hate Crime

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Hindu priest was assaulted recently just blocks away from his temple and community members are calling what happened to him a hate crime.

They maintain he was attacked on his morning walk because of his faith.

CBSN New York's Hazel Sanchez on Tuesday was outside the Hindu temple in Glen Oaks, Queens, where Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri serves. He was just two blocks away when he was attacked by a stranger.

The wounds on his face and head are still fresh and healing, but this man of Hindu faith says he forgives the man who attacked him.

"This is a peaceful time," he said.

Puri, 62, stood outside Shiv Shakti Peeth Temple, where he is a priest. New York Attorney General Letitia James and several local leaders joined him to denounce the assault.

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"It's clear to me that this should be treated as a hate crime, so I'm urging NYPD to investigate it as such," James said. "To the individuals who may have witnessed it, I urge them to come forward."

On Thursday morning, he was wearing full religious garb as he went for a walk near the temple. He told police a man he'd never seen before approached him saying he didn't want him in the neighborhood. Then the man beat him with an umbrella and punched him.

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"They hit me... sidewalk. And after they beat me... after all bleeding inside the mouth, the nose," Puri said.

Police were able to arrest a 52-year-old suspect a short time later. They say he has no prior record.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement he is "disgusted by the attack," adding, "Violence of any kind toward others based on their faith or race is offensive to all New Yorkers and repugnant to our values. These hate-fueled acts are meant to incite fear and division within our communities, and we must stand together and disavow this behavior immediately."

The governor said he is directing the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to assist the NYPD with its investigation.

"Acts like this are not just disgusting -- they are illegal, and we will never allow hate and discrimination to divide us in New York," Cuomo said.

"To see someone like this attacked, your blood boils. You are outraged, enraged, and you want something done," said St. Sen. John Liu of Queens.

Puri says he's convinced justice will be served and all is forgiven.

"It's OK. Everything's good here," Puri said.

"It shows us how he wants to bring all of us together," said Rep. Gregory Meeks.

"This is a teaching moment for all of us as a nation and a state to talk more about love, and to not let the seeds of hate to divide us," James said.

This priest's inspirational character has strengthened the community, making sure hate is not tolerated here, reported CBS2's Hazel Sanchez.

The NYPD has not said why they have not deemed the attack a hate crime.


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