“What does an American look like?” – Clyde Vanel


Lawmakers came out in full force Tuesday to a press conference in Glen Oaks in support of Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri, a Hindu priest of the Shiv Shakti Peeth Temple, who was attacked while wearing religious attire near the place of worship last week.

At the press conference, Puri could be seen with wounds on his head from the July 18th attack.

“It’s simply horrific and agonizing to think that this man of peace and spirituality, our beloved Swami Puri Ji, could be beaten so viciously in this wonderful neighborhood,” said state Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) outside the temple. “That he was attacked while wearing his religious robe, so near his temple, evokes every fear that this was a hate crime. Tragically, I’ve seen too many attacks of this type to believe this was a random act of violence.”

The state’s top law enforcer, Attorney General Letitia James, believes the arraigned suspect Sergio Gouveia, should be charged with a hate crime.

Currently, Gouveia has been charged with harassment and 2nd-degree assault, according to the NYPD.

“Mr. Ji wears the scars of hate and pain, but also the scars of courage and compassion,” said James. “It is clear to me that this should be treated as a hate crime, so I’m urging the NYPD to investigate it as such. For those individuals that have witnessed it, I urge you to come forward.”

Liu and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) are two of the co-sponsors of The Religious Garb Bill that would prohibit discrimination against religious attire and appearances, and they are pushing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the legislation to prevent future acts of violence.

“The bill is going to the governor’s desk,” said Weprin. “I’ve represented this community for eight years in the City Council and now nine and half years in the Assembly. I have covered this whole region and it’s unfortunate this is not the first time that we’ve come together as many ethnic groups and in support of an individual in an incident.”

In 2017, the dilapidated Holliswood Hospital, which is a 12-minute drive from Glen Oaks and is in Weprin’s district, was vandalized with graffiti of the N-word and swastikas.

“Any time hate rears its ugly head it’s important that we come together and stand united,” said Weprin.

Queens County Chairman Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica, Rockaway Beach) indirectly blamed President Donald Trump and his rhetoric for inciting hate crimes.

“When we have language that is coming from 1600 Pennsylvania telling folks ‘to go back home,’ it endangers all of us and every one of us,” said Meeks. “When I look at this case, of my brothers and sisters who may have come from South Asia, you have really made America greater than it’s ever been. The fact that you are here demonstrates what we can be as a society if we are together and unified. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power.”

State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Nassau County), the first South Asian senator shared the same sentiments with Meeks.

“Immigrants make our country better,” said Thomas. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The Hindu temple is located within Assemblyman Clyde Vanel’s (D-Queens Village).

“What does an American look like? What does a New Yorker look like? Do they look like me, like the Swami Ji, like John Liu?” said Vanel. You are looking at Americans. You are looking at New Yorkers. You are looking at community members. Hate has no place in our community. This is a great community of family values.”

Puri thanked the lawmakers and community members who came to the temple for their support and prayed that his attacker, America and everyone in the world will find peace within him or herself.