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Fresno police offer $5,000 reward in hate crime attack on Sikh man

Fresno police are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of two men who hit a Sikh man with their truck, then beat him up on a public street in what is being considered a hate crime, the department announced.

Amrik Singh Bal, 68, was waiting Saturday morning for his ride to a vineyard where he works as a farmhand when police said two men pulled up in a truck and hurled insults at him.

Bal, who wore a full white beard and turban, tried to cross the street to get away from them, police said. When Bal stepped into the road, the truck backed up and hit him. The men then got out and beat him up before leaving the scene, police said.

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One of the men said, “Why are you here?” to Bal, who was left with a broken collarbone and cuts to his nose and hand, police said.

The attackers are described as two men between 20 and 25 years old. One man was between 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-11 with a skinny build and no facial hair; he wore a dark waist-length jacket. The second man was the same height but was heavy set, possibly with a beard, and wore a dark-colored hoodie.

What motivated the men, who are still at large, remains under investigation, local and federal authorities said. But as word of the incident spread Monday, for many American Sikhs much of it felt all too familiar.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Sikhs have often been subjected to violence or harassment by people who mistakenly perceive them as Muslim. Between anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner political rhetoric and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, several members of the Sikh community said, the animosity has felt recently like it's at an all-time high.

"It's a completely different, permissive environment," said Prabhjot Singh, a physician and professor of medicine in New York who was attacked by a mob near Central Park in 2013. "It feels to me that it's open season on Muslims or people who look different — and Sikhs are certainly one of the most visible representations of that."

"Osama" and "terrorist" are the snippets of insults that Singh remembers the 20 or so young men yelling at him during his own attack, which left him with a fractured jaw and several teeth dislodged. He said he continues to hear such remarks a couple of times a week in Manhattan, where he lives and works, with an unmistakable increase immediately after incidents of terrorism.

Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, which provides legal representation for victims of discrimination and attacks, said her organization received three times as many requests for assistance this month compared with December in previous years.

"It's definitely a hostile time, a scary time," she said. "The Paris and San Bernardino attacks, as well as all of this rhetoric by politicians about Islamophobia and xenophobia — all these incidents have emboldened people who feel biases to act out."

By Monday, the coalition and other Sikhs had taken to social media, posting their family stories with the hashtag #whywearehere.

Times staff writer Victoria Kim contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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