When Gilbert Garcia Jr. beat Piara Singh in the head and body with a steel rod, he made racial slurs about Muslims and yelled, "I'm going to destroy your mosque."
But Singh, 82, doesn't attend mosque; he goes to temple. And he's Sikh, not Muslim.
Singh's 2013 case is part of a troubling trend, in recent years, towards hate-motivated violence against Sikhs mistaken for Muslims. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California late last year, Sikh Americans have reported a 200 percent increase in "hate incidents," said Arjun Singh Sethi, director of law and policy for national civil rights organization The Sikh Coalition. Previously, Sethi added, such incidents increased from five in December 2013 to seven in December 2014, but jumped to at least 18 in December 2015.
"Recent political rhetoric in terrorist attacks have legitimized bigotry and hatred," he told NTRSCTN in a phone interview, "and anyone who looks different is targeted, including Muslims, Arabs, and Sikhs."
Recent political rhetoric in terrorist attacks have legitimized bigotry and hatred.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, for example, has said Islam hates the U.S., and called for the “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the country.
For its part, Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in the Indian state of Punjab. According to the BBC, "the Sikh ideal combines action and belief. To live a good life, a person should do good deeds, as well as meditating on God." More than 25 million people practice Sikhism worldwide, but the number of Sikh Americans varies, with the Pew Research Center estimating that there are at least 200,000 in the U.S.
Hate crimes against Sikhs occur because people think of terrorism and Sept. 11 when they see the religion's articles of faith, Sethi added. "Many Americans associate the Sikh articles of faith, including the turban and beard, with foreign terrorists," he said, adding that they actually stand for "justice and equality." Indeed, the coalition reports that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it's received thousands of reports of "hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling" against Sikh Americans.
In December 2013, Stanford University and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund published Turban Myths, a study on America's perception of the Sikh community. Of the nearly 1,200 responses, 35.3% of people said they most associate Osama bin Laden with a turban and beard. Bin Laden, founder of Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda and mastermind behind 9/11, wore a turban in his frequent video appearances.
What's more, of 869 responses, nearly half said they associate a turban and beard with Muslims, whereas 30% associate them with Sikhs. Even more problematic, of 1,183 responses, 49% of people believe "Sikh" is a sect of Islam—although it's an entirely different religion.
Despite widespread misunderstanding of the religion, Sethi says Americans shouldn't differentiate between Sikhism and Islam when it comes to standing up to hate.
“There are no bystanders. Every American should denounce bigotry whenever they see it; that could include opining on social media, visiting a mosque or Gurdwara, or saying hello and expressing your solidarity to a Sikh or Muslim neighbor," he said. "We need a cultural shift. America belongs to all of us, including Sikhs and Muslims. No one state or ethnic group lays claim to America.”
This post originally appeared on NTRSCTN.com