Police: Bellingham Uber driver attacked, strangled for wearing turban

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham police arrested a 22-year-old man for potential assault and hate crime charges after an Uber driver reported being strangled in a violent attack, where he was allegedly targeted because he was wearing a turban.

According to representatives from the Washington State Sikh Coalition, in the Sikh faith tradition, the turban symbolizes equality for all human beings.

When the Uber driver called 911 around 4 a.m. on December 5, Bellingham police said he’d been attacked so violently, he had to run from his car, leaving the rider and his car behind in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 1400 block of Barkley Blvd.

“The passenger became belligerent and then he became physically assaultive (sic) and grabbed the driver by the throat,” said Claudia Murphy of the Bellingham Police Department.

Murphy said officers arrested 22-year-old Grifin Sayers for allegedly targeting the driver because of his race and religion.

"While he was strangling him he was mentioning some very derogatory racially-specific comments, that make this a bias incident," she said.

"He actually abused him for the fact that he was wearing a turban," said Dr. Jasmit Singh with the Sikh Coalition, who added that similar attacks on drivers of the Sikh faith who wear turbans have been happening in the Puget Sound area consistently for years.

“Every time that I hear this it brings back memories of things that have happened in the last 20 years, and they keep on happening on a daily basis,” he said.

According to FBI statistics on hate crime, attacks targeting Sikhs rose 200% since 2017, and Washington State ranks third behind California and New York in reports of attacks targeting Sikhs.

Dr. Singh says the Uber driver he represents is afraid to go back to driving an Uber.

“He’s shaken up,” he said. “Right now his entire family is traumatized. He is a family man and they don’t know what to do.”

Claudia Murphy said the trauma goes far beyond being strangled.

“That by itself is frightening enough,” she said. “I cannot even imagine how this driver feels, that the reason he was attacked was none other than who he is and where he comes from.”