Undated photo of Professor Prabhjot Singh, who was the victim...

Undated photo of Professor Prabhjot Singh, who was the victim of an apparent hate crime attack in Manhattan. (Sept. 23, 2013) Credit: Columbia University

Columbia University professor Dr. Prabhjot Singh, recalling the Saturday night attack in which he said his jaw was broken by assailants yelling anti-Muslim slurs at him, asked Monday: "Did they know what they were doing?"

Singh, an East Harlem physician who provides health care to low-income families, said at a news conference at Columbia: "This does not represent Harlem or this city. Someone gave these 14-, 15-year-olds the green light to act this way."

Holding back tears, Singh, who studies and tracks bias attacks against the Sikh community, said the attackers -- at least 15 males on bicycles -- could have just asked him questions about his turban or his religion instead of lashing out. The NYPD's Hate Crimes Unit is investigating the report. No arrests have been made.

The assault was a humbling experience, he said. "This makes me want to redouble my efforts. It will not change how I move around in my community."

Singh said the assailants pulled his beard and tried to tear off his turban on Lenox Avenue and 110th Street in Harlem. The professor, whose lower jaw had to be wired, said he heard his attackers yell "Get him!" and "Osama." Several witnesses chased the attackers away as Singh ran, he said.

"Get to know who we are," pleaded Singh. He said he welcomed his attackers to his house of worship, adding that a Muslim woman had also been attacked several blocks away about the same time. The two were in the same emergency room and had spoken to each other, he added.

A resident of Harlem for more than two years, Singh, 31, is originally from Indianapolis, and has worked in New York City for 10 years. He is an assistant professor at the university's School of International and Public Affairs.

Singh said he is hopeful that one day Americans will see the turban "not as a symbol of terrorism" but instead as a sign of someone who is "close to God" and "is the first to respond to someone in need of help."

Also at the news conference, Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that a recent study revealed that 70 percent of Americans believe Muslims wear turbans, according to a nationwide study released this month, "Turban Myths." The Stanford University study, which polled 1,500 Americans, also found that half those polled believed incorrectly that Sikhs are a Muslim sect.

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