A Sikh truck driver claims Mississippi traffic cops labeled him a “terrorist” because of his turban — and was then degraded in court when a county judge called the religious headwear “that rag.”
Jagjeet Singh, 49, a trucker from California, was driving through the Magnolia State when he was pulled over for driving with a flat tire in Pike County on Jan. 16, according to a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Singh was taken to a weigh station operated by the state’s Department of Transportation, where he says cops ordered him to turn over his “kirpan,” a 3-inch ceremonial blade that all Sikh men traditionally carry in their waistbands, the ACLU said.
“Contending, wrongly, that his kirpan was illegal, the DOT officer demanded that Mr. Singh turn it over,” the ACLU wrote in the complaint filed Wednesday.
The letter said that Singh tried to explain that the blade was a sacred talisman, and even showed the officers videos on his phone that explained the Sikh faith.
“In response, however, the officers laughed at him and mocked his religious beliefs,” the letter read. “One officer declared that all Sikhs are depraved and ‘terrorists.’”
Jagjeet Singh was harassed by traffic cops because he was wearing a turban after he was pulled over for a flat tire and arrested. A judge later ordered him to remove “that rag” from his head before he appeared in court.
Singh was arrested for refusing to obey a command, because he would not turn over the kirpan.
“The officers’ shameful treatment of Mr. Singh was an abuse of their authority and a betrayal of the public’s trust that law enforcement officials will carry out their duties free from prejudice,” said Bear Atwood, a lawyer for the Mississippi office of the ACLU.
“The fact that officers may be unfamiliar with Sikhism or other minority relitions does not give them license to harass and degrade members of th public who follow these faiths.”
As he waited for his attorney in the back of the courtroom, four officers approached him and told him that Judge Aubrey Rimes had ordered them to kick him out if he did not remove his turban, Atwood said.
“Moreover, they told Mr. Singh that Judge Rimes would punish him if he failed to remove the headdress,” Atwood wrote in a statement.
Singh’s attorney went to the judge’s chambers, where his orders were allegedly repeated.
“He further stated that Mr. Singh would not be allowed to re-enter the courtroom unless he removed ‘that rag’ from his head and threatened to call Mr. Singh last on the docket if he continued to wear the religious headdress,” Atwood said.
Because Singh refused to remove the turban and violate his religious beliefs, he was forced to wait several hours before he was allowed in the courtroom to plead guilty and agree to pay a fine.
Jared Ravencraft, a DOT spokesman, confirmed the arrest, but would not comment any further on the alleged incident.
“We just got the letter,” Ravencraft told ABC News. “We’re looking into the allegations.”
Pike County Administrator Andrew Alford referred the news station to a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice that offers to close a federal investigation if the county revised its nondiscrimination policy and implement sensitivity training.
The ACLU said it wanted to see action taken on behalf of the state’s DOT and the Mississippi Judicial Commission, which investigates complaints of ethics violations by jurists.
Officials declined to discuss Singh’s complaint as it was still under review.
Originally Published By J Kemp of NY Daily News