Willowbrook teen charged with hate crime in Darien road rage beating
One week after an altercation in Darien left him bloodied and bruised, Inderjit Singh Mukker returned Tuesday morning to the area where he says he was attacked because of the beard and turban he wears as a Sikh-American.
Hours earlier, DuPage County prosecutors announced that the Willowbrook teen accused of beating Mukker on Sept. 8 is now charged with a hate crime. So Mukker, a 53-year-old cabdriver and father of two grown children, publicly thanked State's Attorney Robert Berlin and his office "for understanding that this was much more than an assault or a case of road rage."
"This was a hate crime," said Mukker, as he was flanked by supporters during a rally along Cass Avenue, north of 75th Street. "I was attacked because of the color of my skin and my articles of faith."
Prosecutors filed the latest charges in juvenile court, where the unidentified teen also is accused of aggravated battery and punching a police officer who came to his home to arrest him.
Officials said Tuesday that Mukker captured a portion of the confrontation and beating on his phone, but they did not know about the video until Monday. Officials said the video was not discovered sooner because the Darien resident did not initially mention he recorded it, and police did not confiscate his phone for evidence.
Mukker was driving to the grocery store about 5:15 p.m. on Sept. 8 when the altercation occurred, authorities said.
While Mukker was waiting to turn left on Cass from 75th, the 17-year-old started yelling racial slurs at him from another car, police said.
According to Mukker's attorney, the teen saw his beard and turban and called Mukker a "terrorist," "bin Laden" and other slurs.
The teen cut Mukker off several times, and when Mukker pulled to the side of the road, the teen did, too, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the teen left his car and approached Mukker's vehicle where the two exchanged words. At some point the teen punched Mukker in the face as the man sat in his vehicle, they said.
Mukker suffered a fractured cheekbone and cuts to his face as well as swelling and bruising. The teen then fled, authorities said.
Police eventually found the teen at his home, and when he was approached he punched an officer in the face, authorities said.
More than 100 people attended the Tuesday rally organized by the New York-based Sikh Coalition to call for an end to race- and religion-based hatred.
"As Americans we face a problem of hatred in our great nation," said Narinder Singh, chairman of the Sikh Coalition board. "In our struggle to find ourselves, too often we cast those different from us as the 'other' because they do not share our race, our faith, our beliefs, our sexual orientation or lifestyle. "This bias sets the foundation for extremists and those that are impressionable or unbalanced to feed off a culture of hate," Singh said.
Singh said members of Sikhism -- the fifth-largest religion in the world -- believe in living an honest life and caring for others.
Still, Mukker said he was assaulted because he's a Sikh.
"Instead of seeing my beard and turban for what they are -- articles of my faith that stand for values like equality, selfless service and faith in God -- he twisted them into symbols of hate," Mukker said. "He called me bin Laden. He told me to go back to my country. This is my country. This is my home. I am an American, and no American should be judged or attacked because of the color of their skin and their religion."
Supporters carried signs reading "Love One Another" and "Fed Up With Racism, Now We Rise" and lined the roadway.
Officials with the Sikh Coalition said they met Monday with Berlin and their legal team shared the additional evidence indicating hatred was the primary motivation for the crime.
Earlier on Tuesday, Berlin released a statement saying "crimes based on hatred or prejudice have no place in our society. Any physical attack motivated in whole or in part by an offender's preconceived bias against another individual based on race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is a crime, not only against the victim but against society as a whole."
A future court date has not yet been set for the teen.
Meanwhile, Mukker, who is still recovering from his injuries and hasn't been able to return to work, called on DuPage and elected officials to stand up against racism and hate.
"When bigotry and violence infect our community, we must always condemn it -- not sweep it under the rug," Mukker said. "We must always stand up and protect the rights of the vulnerable."