A 38-year-old Muslim taxi driver was shot by his passenger on Thanksgiving Day, after the suspect allegedly probed him repeatedly about his religion. The victim, as well as advocacy groups, are calling it a hate crime and are urging the Pittsburgh police department to do the same.
The victim, who is opting to remain anonymous for safety, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the weekend that his attacker relentlessly questioned him about his faith and his background. “He started the conversation and began to ask questions like, ‘You seem to be like a Pakistani guy. Are you from Pakistan?’ ” The driver's response was spot on: "And I said, ‘No, I’m from Morocco. But I’m an American guy.'"
The victim told the Post-Gazette that the passenger started talking about ISIS, and that when the driver said he is also anti-ISIS, the passenger began talking derisively about Islam overall. "He began to satirize Muhammad, my prophet, and began to shift to his personal life. He mentioned that he has two kids and was in prison for some time," said the victim.
Once they arrived at the passenger's home in Hazelwood, he asked the driver to wait while he went inside to get his wallet. He returned with a rifle. The victim described:
I noticed that he came out of the house carrying a rifle in his hand. I noticed him coming toward me. I didn’t hesitate. I [made] a fast decision to leave and drove my taxi away because I felt he was going to do something. There is danger. He would shoot me or something. I felt like he had the intention to kill me.
The suspect allegedly shot at the car, and struck the victim in the back. He was able to continue driving and pull over, before he waved someone over to help. The victim is currently recovering in a Pittsburgh hospital.
In response to the incident, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the incident as a hate crime. "CAIR-Pittsburgh Program Director Alia Schindler said in a statement that "federal officials need to send a clear message that attacks on American Muslims, or on any minority group, will not be tolerated and that the perpetrators will face the full force of the law." The FBI is already looking into the attack.
Authorities say they're not ready to call the incident a hate crime, yet. “Detectives are talking to a couple witnesses and they’re starting to gather information to put a timeline together,” Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor told the Post-Gazette, adding, "There are all kinds of details that have to be looked into. They have to look at the evidence and any videos that may exist.”
The FBI's annual Hate Crimes Statistics report, which was published earlier this month, found that in hate crimes had generally fallen in the U.S. in 2014. But that wasn't the case for hate crimes against American Muslims which, as Newsweek points out, rose last year. It's hard to imagine that the trend will change in light of the Paris attacks, which CAIR says has prompted a rash of anti-Muslim attacks in the U.S.
The victim, for his part, sees what happened as an isolated incident.“This [incident] is due to the person, not the city,” he told the Post-Gazette. “Pittsburgh is my style, it is like my hometown [of Safi] in Morocco. My dream is to be an American." He is three months away from becoming a citizen.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.