In the early morning hours of December 3, 2019, an observant Sikh American Uber driver was berated and attacked by a customer.

The driver, who remains anonymous, originally picked up Grifin Levi Sayers and took him to a fast food restaurant and a convenience store before driving him home. Near the end of the ride, Sayers became agitated and started making racist accusations regarding the driver’s skin color, Indian heritage, beard, and turban. He then attacked the driver by attempting to strangle him and steal his phone. The driver was able to escape on foot with his attacker in pursuit, and immediately called 911.

In response, the Sikh Coalition provided the driver free legal advice and worked to ensure that the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged Sayers with a hate crime. Additionally, we mobilized gurdwaras across Washington to send a thank-you letter to the office, and worked with local and national press to preserve the driver’s anonymity while raising awareness around the case (including local news features with Sikh Coalition-trained spokespeople and an op-ed piece).

IMPACT

On December 13, 2019, Sayers was charged with assault in the second degree and a hate crime. We are grateful to the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for invoking Washington’s recently strengthened law regarding hate crimes, and to the Bellingham Police Department for recognizing the bias motivation in this case from the beginning. We expect to provide further updates on this case as more information emerges.

The above photo features Sikh community members at Sayers’ arraignment on December 13, 2019. Photo Credit: The Chardi Kala Project

“Hate crimes are deeply traumatic for the individual, but they also send ripple effects through the entire community. A hate crime against one is an act of aggression against all--and likewise, the decision to prosecute this case represents a commitment to protecting all of Washington’s Sikh residents. We are grateful for that commitment.”

–Dr. Jasmit Singh, Washington Sikh community leader

WHY IT MATTERS

Hate crimes damage the lives of survivors, their families, and the communities in which they live. Thus, when Sikhs are targeted because of hate, it is imperative that law enforcement authorities document these attacks as hate crimes and prosecutors pursue hate crime charges. This is especially true in Washington, which the Sikh Coalition judges to be the third-most dangerous state for Sikh Americans (on the basis of reported hate crime data, private reporting, and anecdotal evidence from sangat members since 2015).

The Sikh Coalition will continue to provide free legal support to our client in this case and other Sikh Americans who are discriminated against or subject to bias because of their faith. In these types of cases, quality legal support can be the determining factor in the outcome of a case–but cost can be prohibitive, which is why we will always strive to provide the best legal support available to those who need it.