An enlightened approach to hate crimes
October 5, 2013 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Palmeet Kaur, whose father was killed by a gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, attends a vigil on August 5.
- Sikh doctor forgives teenagers who beat him and called him a terrorist
- Amardeep Singh works with hate crime victims who display a different approach
- Rather than jail time, he says, people who commit hate crimes can do community service
- Singh: It's helpful for victims and perpetrators to overcome fears about each other
Editor's note: Amardeep Singh is program director and co-founder of the The Sikh Coalition.
(CNN) -- Prabhjot Singh, a turbaned Sikh doctor and Columbia University professor, was surrounded recently by a gang of teenagers on bicycles who beat him, fracturing his jaw. He says they called him a "terrorist" and "Osama."
His response: "If I could speak to my attackers," he said, "I would ask them if they had any questions, if they knew what they were doing. Maybe invite them to the gurdwara where we worship, get to know who we are."
Most people would be surprised by Dr. Singh's willingness to forgive and constructively engage his attackers. I am not. Like most Sikhs, I was taught at a young age about Bhai Ghaniya, a famous Sikh who would distribute food and water to wounded enemy soldiers. The lesson instilled was that the work of mending fences begins as soon as one can no longer harm you.
Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin erect a sign on August 5, the first anniversary of a shooting in the temple
As a professional advocate working with Sikh hate crime victims for more than a decade since 9/11, I have consistently seen Sikhs move beyond the punitive bent of our criminal justice system and adopt a Sikh approach to addressing our attackers. The result is a decidedly Sikh-American brand of justice that produces more social benefit than the revolving-door criminal justice system in our country.
Take our work with Gurpreet Singh and Thomas Brand. Thomas worked at Marsh McLenan at the World Trade Center. He never had a chance to say goodbye to his colleagues who died there on 9/11. Traveling on trains made him scared and angry. He acted on his anger a year later by pushing Gurpreet on the Long Island Railroad, urging him to leave the train and calling him a "terrorist."
Thomas was stopped by an off-duty police officer, arrested, and eventually prosecuted. When it came time for sentencing, the prosecutor was ready to recommend jail time for Thomas.
Gurpreet did not want that to happen. He saw a man in real pain who needed a lift up and not jail time. He asked that the prosecutor recommend Thomas engage in community service aimed at combating hate in a post 9/11 world.
Thomas was very nervous when he came to our office. He said he knew nothing about us and always thought we were "stern" and "angry." He said he was surprised that one of my colleagues was wearing shorts instead of pants. We got to know each other and eventually Thomas was standing with Gurpreet and me as we went to gurdwaras, Sikh houses of worship, collecting reports of bias against Sikhs.
All of us were better for the experience. Gurpreet and I had our own prejudices and fears of people who looked like "Joe America" and clearly Thomas had his own perceptions about us "turban folk" as well. Rather than allow him to spend time incarcerated in the overworked criminal justice system, we all found healing and became better people for it.
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amardeep Singh.
Part of complete coverage on
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Tim Maurer say reports of cyberattacks in Ukraine fit a pattern of a new and risky form of warfare.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Kirk Bloodsworth says DNA cleared him after 9 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He is living proof, he says,that America's system of capital punishment is broken beyond repair.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Will Cain blasts New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for not allowing a charter school to open in a city building, saying the mayor has condemned the kids to failure.
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the state's law, as written, lets someone take a picture up your skirt in a public place. But don't blame the court for upholding the law, blame the legislators who enacted it
March 7, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
John Sutter says the "gay Jim Crow" bills that are popping in up in several states are a step back for the U.S.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 0529 GMT (1329 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a court rightly sided with a driver stopped while consulting a map on his phone.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says words and sanctions aren't enough; the U.S. has to ramp up energy production and its military resources
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
David Speedie says it's important Ukraine's neo-fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-Russian parties are marginalized if democracy is to succeed
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1714 GMT (0114 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Republicans are attacking Obama's Ukraine response even as he is already doing what they suggest. Using the crisis for political gain is irresponsible, hurts U.S. global standing
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1552 GMT (2352 HKT)
Sean Callebs has suffered from debilitating panic attacks since he witnessed the electric chair execution of a convicted killer. He writes about how he got better
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0015 GMT (0815 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Putin may be using a similar ethnic justification for his Ukraine incursion, but that's pretty much where Clinton's comparison would have to end
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
Olympia Dukakis says home-care aides supported her whole family when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Families depend on them more and more -- but they are marginalized and paid little
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says that as Russia looks set to slice off a part of Ukraine and keep it for itself, there are important lessons to be drawn; among them, brute force is not thing of the past
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Eric Liu says a China state media article that used an ethnic slur against U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke revealed stark differences between China and America
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)
David Logan says holacracy, an organizational system that gets rid of hierarchy, might work at Zappos.
Today's five most popular stories