19-year-old Indiana student attacks Muslim woman: Is an apology enough?

After an Indiana University student attacks a Muslim woman sitting outside of a cafe, Muslim advocates and educators says this single hate crime exists within a larger trend. 

Courtesy: WNDU-TV
A video screen grab showing the Muslim woman who was attacked by an Indiana University student in Bloomington, Ind., last weekend

Triceten Bickford, a 19-year-old Indiana University student, attacked a Muslim woman in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday night, according to police.

Mr. Bickford says the attack was alcohol induced, and he doesn’t have any memory of the incident. 

But the woman, a 47-year-old Turkish immigrant sitting at an outside cafe table with her 9-year-old daughter, remembers the event clearly. 

“He started to yell ‘white power,’ couple times,” the victim told WTHR-TV News. “I found him at my neck, like pushing me down, squeezing my neck and putting my head to the table.”

After living in the US for 18 years, the woman said she has “never experienced any kind of discrimination or racism, let alone an all-out attack,” WTHR News reports. But the incident comes at a time of heightened racism against Muslims in the US.

Bickford has apologized to the women, saying he “is not a monster.”

“I’m so sorry to that women,” he said in an interview with WTHR News. “I have no idea who she is, but words can’t explain how much that - I’ve never hurt someone like that before.”

“That never happened in my life,” the unidentified woman said in the WTHR News interview. “He pulled my scarf off, and, if I didn’t grab his hands, he could have killed me.”

UPDATE: IU spokesman Mark Land told the Associated Press Tuesday afternoon that the university's dean of students "dismissed" Bickford from the school Monday evening as a "direct result of what happened over the weekend." Mr.Land says the university won't have anything more to say about Bickford, and will "let the legal process run its course."

This attack reflects rising animosity in the country – perhaps the worst in more than a decade.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a growing anti-Muslim sentiment in our society,” Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told The Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.

“I can say I’ve been working at this organization for over three years, and the number of instances, and the general atmosphere in the country, it’s more than I’ve ever seen,” Madihha Ahussain, staff attorney with Muslim Advocates in Oakland, Calif., tells The Christian Science Monitor. “And a lot of people who’ve done this a long time – there’s talk about how it seems even worse than after 9/11.”

Bickford faces a judge Friday, where charges of intimidation, public intoxication, two counts of misdemeanor battery, one count of felony-level battery, strangulation and illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor will be addressed. His charges include attacks on the Bloomington police, as it is reported Bickford bit a policeman on the calf and tried to kick out a window in the police car after he was arrested. He was later released on $500 cash bond.

But Mr. Hooper says these charges aren’t enough. “We’ve asked ‘bias crime’ charges to be brought, which are outlined in Indiana’s Criminal Code,” he said. “We expressed deep concerns that bail of $2,000 does not express the seriousness of the crime.”

And moving forward, Hooper says that fighting ignorance is the best way to address discriminatory attacks.

“We found through our research and experience that education and outreach is the best way to challenge Islamophobia,” he says. “If people interact with Muslims on an every day basis,” most religious assumptions can be addressed.

And amid these challenges, some Muslims in the US see glimmers of hope and acceptance. Last week, for instance, most of the anti-Muslim rallies in front of mosques around the US – organized by a loose-knit coalition of anti-Muslim protesters calling themselves the “Global Rally for Humanity” – fizzled. Instead, the event inspired counter rallies of interfaith groups that met to support the mosques being protested. Other protests in Oregon, Florida, and Michigan, also were sparsely attended, outnumbered by those who came in solidarity.

As the Monitor reported:

Catherine Orsborn, director of the Shoulder to Shoulder interfaith campaign, formed in 2010 to battle anti-Muslim bigotry, was one of the leaders who attended a counter rally at the Masjid Muhammad in Washington. As it turned out, no anti-Muslim protesters showed up. 

“But this is an issue for all of us as Americans,” Ms. Orsborn says. “It has to do with our American identity, this idea about who’s in, or who’s out.”   

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