(Hightstown, NJ) May 16, 2008 - The Sikh Coalition is encouraged by the swift action taken by Hightstown High School to address the lighting of a Sikh student's turban on fire last week. Local police also served the perpetrator with a hate crime complaint on Wednesday.
School Takes Strong Action
On the day the Coalition made public this incident, Hightstown High School issued a press statement pledging to work "with the Sikh Coalition of New York to develop and implement specific programs with our students as a result of this event." The school system's Superintendent also announced that the perpetrator had been permanently dismissed from school.
Hightstown High School has since been working with the Sikh Coalition to develop a school-wide program on the incident. Specifically, the school and the Coalition are developing a religious diversity lesson for homeroom teachers ending with a specific discussion on the incident. The students will also be encouraged to take home the school's press statement as a means of sparking healthy home discussion about what happened. Both the Coalition and the school want to create an environment where diversity is celebrated, students know more about Sikhs, and the school community can grow and heal.
|In 2007 the Sikh Coalition created KHALSAKIDS.ORG to help young Sikhs address school bullying. Please visit the site.
Perpetrator Served with Hate Crime Complaint
The Coalition made multiple attempts via phone and fax to contact the local police starting on May 4. Those requests for information were not answered. On May 12, the day the Coalition brought this matter to the public's attention local police started responding to press inquiries.
Yesterday, on May 14, the Highstown Police Chief informed the Sikh Coalition's staff attorney via e-mail that the perpetrator had been served with a bias crime complaint.The Coalition is disappointed that the police did not respond to inquiries until the press began making them. The gravity of the crime required a better and more immediate public response from local police to the Sikh community.
The hate crime complaint is now with the Mercer County Prosecutor's office. The County Prosecutor will determine whether and how to move forward with hate crime charges. The Coalition requests the Mercer County Prosecutor's office to carefully review this matter. The Coalition also requests the Mercer County Prosecutor to take into consideration that the perepetrator chose a Sikh student to light on fire and also chose to light his turban on fire instead of any other part of his body.
Bringing Sikh Concerns to the Public's Attention
The Coalition has worked hard to communicate Sikh concerns about this incident to the public. Thus far, over 100 generally sympathetic news articles have been published about this matter. Associated Press and United Press International articles have created national attention to Sikh issues.
ABC's lead story this past Wednesday was on the incident. FOX, CBS, UPN and News 12 New Jersey have covered the issue on television as well. In addition, the Star Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, has published two articles on the incident. The Star Ledger also issued a first-ever Sikh issue editorial entitled "Take Attack on Sikh Seriously."
Meeting with the Mayor, Contact with Other State Officials
The Sikh community is meeting with Hightstown's Mayor this coming Wednesday. The Mayor has been responsive to the Coalition's inquiries since the Coalition contacted him this past Tuesday. The Coalition will bring a group of community members from the Central Jersey Sikh Association (Washington, NJ), Sikh Sabha of New Jersey (Lawrenceville, NJ), and Garden State Sikh Association (Bridgewater, NJ) to the meeting.
The Coalition will continue to work with the local community and police to address this matter. As always, the Coalition continues encourages all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights.