Indian Man Assaulted At Pittsburgh Bar: Assailant Thought He Was Muslim, Said ‘Things Are Different Now’

An Indian man was beaten by a drunken alleged assailant who apparently thought, incorrectly, that his victim was Middle Eastern and/or Muslim. The attack was completely unprovoked, and authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime, WTAE (Pittsburgh) is reporting.

Ankur Mehta was sitting at the bar at a Red Robin restaurant at a Pittsburgh-area mall, listening to music on his earbuds and minding his own business, when the “unprovoked” attack took place. Police said the alleged assailant, Jeffrey Burgess, 54, began making ethnic slurs toward Mehta. Police would not say, specifically, what Burgess allegedly said, reporting only that it was a slur used towards Muslims and/or people of Middle Eastern descent.

According to Hindustan Times, Burgess also told Mehta, “things are different now” and “I don’t want you sitting next to me. You people.” Then, police say, Burgesss began elbowing Mehta in his head, then grabbed him and punched him. Witnesses say Mehta was “defenseless” and had no idea that Burgess was about to assault him.

What happened next is unclear – whether or not Mehta was able to fight off his alleged assailant or whether bystanders intervened. Nevertheless, not long afterward, police showed up. Burgess, whom police say spoke in slurred speech and reeked of alcohol, was arrested and charged with simple assault, harassment, public drunkenness, and ethnic intimidation.

Mehta was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for a loose tooth and cuts to his upper lip.

This is not the first time that an Indian person was mistaken for Middle Eastern/Muslim and was the victim of a hate crime. In fact, according to CNN, Sikhs, who wear turbans, have frequently been the victims of hate crimes by assailants,who mistakenly believe they are Muslims.

Prabhjot Singh says that on September 12, 2013, he and a friend were walking in New York when a group of boys and young men began taunting them, screaming “Terrorist, Osama, get him!” They then proceeded to punch and kick him until bystanders intervened, breaking his jaw and dislodging several teeth in the process.

Singh would later explain to his young son what happened that night.

“A few years ago, a few men hurt me because of what I looked like, because they thought I was bad. Their hearts were asleep and they were not thinking about [Daddy] as a person.”

In fact, the first known victim of post-9/11 violence was a Sikh, who was targeted by an assailant who mistakenly believed he was a Muslim. An Arizona gas station manager was gunned down by a man who said he wanted to “go out and shoot some towel heads.”

Back in Pittsburgh, members of the local Islamic community are speaking up on behalf of the man who isn’t even Muslim but was victimized for vaguely resembling one.

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Zohra Lasania, a communications coordinator for the Council On American Islamic Relations (CAIR), thanked the police for acting quickly.

“We believe this is just the latest incident in a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes since the November 8 election.”

Another CAIR representative, Safdar Khwaja, similarly blamed anti-Muslim rhetoric bandied about during this election for the attack.

“Our political leaders need to speak out against such breakdowns in social order, apparently inspired by reckless rhetoric during the election cycle.”

As of this writing, Jeffrey Burgess, the man accused of assaulting Ankur Mehta, remains jailed on $5,000 bond.

[Featured Image by David Carillet/ Shutterstock]