An Indian American Uber driver was attacked late night Jan. 28 near Moline, Illinois, by a passenger who held a gun to his head while spewing a racially-charged tirade.
No arrests have been made in the case, though the suspect has been identified.
“I really felt I was going to die that night. I prayed to God to save my life,” Gurjeet Singh, a Sikh who had driven for Uber for only a month before the attack, told India-West.
Singh, who serves as the head priest of the Silvis, Illinois, gurdwara, wears a turban and beard in accordance with the tenets of his Sikh religion. On the night of the attack, Singh said he picked up the attacker and his wife from a bar in Moline, and prepared to drive them about five miles away to their home.
Singh said the suspect took the front seat, next to him, while his wife, who is not being named, sat in the back.
As he drove, Singh said the suspect peppered him with questions about his name, where he was from, and his immigration status. Singh said he answered the questions, but could see that the suspect was getting increasingly angry. His wife told him to keep quiet, which made him angrier, according to Singh.
The passenger then asked the driver: “Do you serve our country or do you serve your country?” Singh said he was confused by the question, but replied that he serves both, as his family lives in India and he continues to help them.
“This pissed him off. He put a gun on my head and said he doesn’t like turbans. I was very nervous. It was late night and there was no one else on the road,” he told India-West.
Singh pulled over to the side of the rural road. Once the car was stopped, the suspect's wife reached across to open her husband's door and pushed him out of the car onto the side of the road, according to the Sikh Coalition.
"She insisted to Mr. Singh that he drive her home and leave her husband on the ground to walk home later. Mr. Singh, completely shaken, took the woman to her home."
"Upon getting out of the car, she did tell Mr. Singh to find a different route back, however Mr. Singh was not familiar with the area and could not figure out how to get back another way," said the Sikh Coalition in an e-mail to India-West.
In an emergency, drivers and passengers can only contact Uber via the app; there is no number to directly call the company, which directs people to call 911 instead and then report the incident once they are safe.
Singh said he texted Uber once he got home. He received a response some time later from the company stating only that the passenger’s account had been de-activated. “They did not say sorry to me,” he told India-West, adding that he no longer drives for the company because he is too scared.
“After the police arrest him, maybe I will drive again,” said Singh.
The driver called the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department the following morning.
Lt. Jens Lape of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department told India-West that an investigation was launched soon after Singh called. “We have done multiple interviews with the victim and the suspect,” he said, declining to state whether the suspect’s wife had also been interviewed.
Lape said a search warrant has been sent to Uber. After Uber returns the requested information, the case will be sent to the District Attorney’s office to determine whether an arrest should be made.
“This is an ongoing investigation. We’re hoping to wrap things up within a couple of days,” added Lape.
Illinois reported a total of 73 hate crimes to the FBI in 2016 – the last year for which data was available – with 13 incidents motivated by religion.
Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling did not respond to an e-mail question by India-West as to when Uber would comply with the search warrant. “The safety of driver-partners and riders is a top priority. If any incidents are reported, we do everything we can to support local authorities with their investigation,” said Whaling, adding, “We will cooperate with law enforcement and provide any information to them that would be helpful. I can also confirm we have spoken to the driver following his report to us.”
“Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination on the app and we have reached out to the driver-partner to offer our support. We have removed the rider's access to Uber and will continue to provide any information to police that would be helpful for their investigation,” said Whaling in the e-mail.
The Sikh Coalition, which is advocating on Singh’s behalf, expressed concern that three weeks after the armed attack, a suspect has not yet been arrested.
“The fact that no arrest has been made and hate crime charges have not yet been filed endangers the safety of Mr. Singh and the Quad Cities Sikh community,” said Sikh Coalition legal director Amrith Kaur.
“The facts of this case are clear. We expect the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department to arrest Mr. Singh’s attacker, and the Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office to file hate crime charges immediately,” she said.