Dozens of neighbors gathered outside a convenience store in New York City on Thursday to show support for a Bangladeshi store owner who earlier this week was attacked by a man who said he wanted to "kill all Muslims."
Sarker Haque, the 52-year-old owner of Fatima Food Mart in the Astoria section of Queens, could not hold back the tears as he recounted the attack before a crowd of neighbors, activists, and elected officials.
The attack against Haque is just one of at least 37 Islamophobic incidents, according to a BuzzFeed News count, that have been reported across the United States in the past month. It comes after terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and hateful rhetoric from presidential candidate Donald Trump prompted a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that advocates with the Center for American-Islamic Relations called "unprecedented."
Haque told reporters he was attacked on Saturday afternoon, when a man later identified by police as 55-year-old Piro Kolvani walked into his store and began staring at an edition of the New York Post that carried a photograph of the recent attack in San Bernardino on the front page.
After a few minutes of staring at the paper, Haque said, Kolvani began asking him whether various items in the store were free. When Haque stepped from behind the counter to ask him to calm down, Kolvani started punching him. The beating went on for nearly 10 minutes, Haque said. During the assault, according to the shop owner, the assailant shouted that he wanted to "kill all Muslims."
Haque was eventually able to stop Kolvani with the help of a regular customer, who asked Haque not to identify him. The two detained Kolvani in the store until New York Police Department officers arrived and arrested him.
The NYPD issued a desk appearance ticket to Kolvani, who public records show resides in Jacksonville, Florida. He faces misdemeanor assault charges and has not been charged with a hate crime, a spokesperson for the the Queens District Attorney told BuzzFeed News. The spokesperson declined to say whether the DA intends to bring hate charges against Kolvani when he appears in court early next year.
It was not immediately clear if Kolvani had retained an attorney.
As he told his story on Thursday, a large bruise still covering his left eye, Haque broke into tears. "This is my country, too," the shop keeper said, adding that he'd never think he'd experience anything like this in the 20 years he's spent in the United States.
Neighbors from across Astoria — one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city's most diverse borough — brought flowers and well-wishing cards to the store.
Local elected officials, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, also made an appearance. They drew a direct connection between Trump's comments calling for a complete ban on Muslim immigration to the United States and the attack against Haque.
"The values we all share as Americans are not compatible with this kind of hate," James said.