Feb 21, 2016
It is an iconic American experience, a first long-distance trip in a Greyhound bus through parts of the south-west made famous by Route 66.
When Daljeet Singh took the journey, though, he saw an altogether more dystopian vision of America: one in which it feels like a prejudiced and paranoid place where to be perceived as “Arabic” is to be viewed as a potential terrorist.
Singh has complained to authorities in Texas and called for action after he and another man were arrested on suspicion of terroristic threats on 21 February when a fellow passenger alleged she heard them discussing a bomb and “acting weird”.
He was detained by police in Amarillo for about 30 hours and released without charge after being interviewed by the FBI.
Singh who speaks very little English, is a political asylum seeker from India who had been released the day before the incident after spending about a month in an immigration detention center in Arizona. He was traveling on a service from Phoenix to Indianapolis.
Singh said in a statement that during the journey he spoke on the phone with friends and family in his native language, Punjabi. He came across another passenger, a Pakistani man named Mohammed Chotri, who also spoke Punjabi, and they sat together and conversed.
Singh said that in Amarillo several passengers began regarding him with suspicion, behaving aggressively and taking photographs of him. Soon after the bus left the Texas panhandle city, he said, two passengers restrained him in his seat and police arrived and ordered him to step out.
“When I exited the bus, approximately 15 police officers stood outside with guns pointed at me. Police arrested and searched me, removed my religious turban, placed me in handcuffs, and placed me in a police vehicle,” he said. Chotri, also recently released from an immigration holding center, was detained as well. A bomb squad was called to check the bus and a section of Interstate 40 was closed.
“The only crime I committed was wearing a turban, having a beard, and speaking in a different language to another brown man on a bus,” Singh said.
Singh’s complaint asks Scott Brumley, the Potter county attorney, to pursue criminal charges against the only person who claimed to hear the word “bomb”, identified as Tianna DeCamp, for allegedly knowingly making a false accusation, and against two men who restrained him on the bus. Contact details for DeCamp could not be found on Friday.
The police report states that DeCamp told an officer that Singh and Chotri had “been acting strange since they left Phoenix … slowly moving towards the back of the bus, sometimes taking other people’s seats.”
It adds: “Once at the back of the bus the male subjects pulled out some envelopes and began opening them … the male subjects were talking on multiple cell phones in Arabic and during the conversations she stated she heard one of them say ‘bomb’ multiple times.” According to the report, a search of the men’s possessions found newspaper clippings that included articles about suicide bombings. Singh denies any such articles were his.
Singh, who is now with family in New York and was unavailable for interview, said he was traumatized and humiliated by the event, which was widely reported by local media in stories that included a mugshot of him without his turban.
The incident took place on a Greyhound bus. Many in the Sikh community are concerned about being targeted amid growing Islamophobia. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian