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Anti-Sikh Hate Crime Was a Hoax


North Jersey Media Group, North Arlington, Jul. 11, 2003

"It sounded like a horrible hate crime. Police officers recounted the details in somber voices: During a brash drugstore robbery, a Sikh employee's arm was slashed, his turban removed, and his hair chopped off. Slurs were used, police said. Within a day, the story of the North Arlington holdup was posted on Sikh message boards, and outraged community leaders were notifying Washington legislators while offering counseling to the 21-year-old victim. Then the story unraveled. Police now say the Jun. 30 robbery was a hoax, a carefully staged ruse to steal $5,600 from the cash register. And the advocates who rushed to the store manager's defense say they feel duped."
"Harminder Singh originally told police that two black men armed with a knife and a gun had burst into the Schuyler Avenue C.V.S. store, led him to the rear, and cut off his hair before fleeing with the cash. Sikhs are forbidden by their religion to cut their hair, believing it is a gift from God. Singh's descriptions of the robbers were vivid: The gunman was 5-foot-5 with cornrows, a dark sleeveless shirt, and loose khaki pants. The second robber wore a black mask and a T-shirt with the words 'I love you' emblazoned in red across the front. A blond-haired white man stood watch outside. But Singh himself had actually cut the power to the store, snipped his own hair, and slashed his own hand, North Arlington police Capt. Louis Ghione said Thursday. The $5,600 was found under the back seat of his car, Ghione said."
"Singh was charged with theft and filing a false police report. He was released on his own recognizance pending a court hearing. A date had not been set. Singh's mother, who answered the phone at the family's Teaneck home, would not comment. His lawyer said Singh comes from a very strict and religious family. 'I'm sure that the entire story will come out in due time,' said lawyer Eddie Raynord Hadden. Police turned suspicious when the store surveillance tape contradicted Singh's account, Ghione said. For instance, he said, Singh told police he had wheeled in stray carts from the parking lot as he locked up the store, but that is not seen on the videotape. He also told police that the robbers approached him as he was locking the door, but no one else appears on the videotape, Ghione said. Detectives confronted Singh, and he offered to take a polygraph test. He confessed just before it was administered, said Capt. Gary Fanning."
" 'The way he cut his hair was not even consistent with his story,' Fanning said. 'He said it was cut with a knife, but it was cut like in a salon.' News of the hoax rocked national groups that had flocked to Singh's aid. Rajwant Singh, national chairman of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education [S.C.O.R.E.], said he was humiliated and angered. 'People are just outraged. We feel that this is the lowest anybody can go to exploit a situation for their own personal benefit,' Rajwant Singh said."
"The council was one of several national organizations to contact police last week, wanting to offer condolences to the family and counseling for the victim. Word of the reported hate crime was posted on about a dozen Sikh e-groups, alerting about 10,000 people to the incident, Rajwant Singh said. He even put in a call to a senator who is drafting hate-crime legislation, to fill him in on the details of the incident. Since 9/11, he said, Sikhs have been working to educate Americans about the community, whose estimated 25 million worldwide members follow a religion established more than five centuries ago in northern India."