After an Astoria store owner was attacked in the neighborhood on Saturday, members of the community are rallying together to shower him with love and support.
Sarker Haque, 52, owner of Fatima Food Market located at 21-37 21st Ave., was assaulted by Piro Kolvani, 55, of Jacksonville, Fla., police said. Kolvani hit Haque repeatedly in the face and neck and the store owner suffered a black eye, laceration to his lips and bruising.
When Haque asked his attacker why he was hitting him, according to published reports, Kolvani allegedly said, “I kill Muslims.”
Larry Mayberry, an Astoria resident and pastor at Connection Church, started the “Love Fatima Food Mart” Facebook group that has so far garnered 315 members who will participate in a number of activities to show the store owner that “the vast majority of Astorians not only disagree with what happened but are also ready to show it.”
Mayberry said he was surprised by news of the attack. A native of the south, he noted that he has found “sanctuary” in Astoria, a neighborhood where people from different religions and ethnic backgrounds have formed a community.
“Today, I was reminded that racism and fear are everywhere, even here in Astoria,” Mayberry said. “I also know, though, that perfect love casts out all fear and my response as a Christian in this time is particularly important.”
This weekend, Astoria residents will gather to create posters and cards to hang on Fatima Food Market’s storefront to show Haque that his presence is valued. Residents will also “put our money where our social media activism is” by shopping at the market to help Haque recover any losses.
“I’m so upset by this,” Astoria resident Paul Betz said in the group. “I live on that block and see Saker Haque frequently. He’s always been the kindest person and it is absolutely disgusting that this happened.”
Another member of the group, Ben Coleman, offered his condolences.
“My heart goes out to Saker Haque,” Coleman said. “Thank you for being a fantastic presence in our neighborhood, for always being friendly to your patrons, and for many late night laughs. Wishing you well on your recovery and infinite condolences for the injuries you suffered at the hands of ignorance and hate.”
In an interview with The Courier on Wednesday, Haque said he is feeling better and that he is thankful to the community for showing support.
“This is the best neighborhood that I know. I’m here a long time,” Haque said. “[My shop has been here for ] 16 years and this is a very nice, very kind, good neighborhood.”
Kolvani, who has six prior arrests between 2006 and 2010, was issued a desk appearance ticket by the NYPD and is expected to appear in court on Jan. 12. The incident is still under investigation and police said that Kolvani was charged with a misdemeanor assault.
Several people in the Facebook group are shocked that the attack is not being investigated as a hate crime and are planning to create a petition to ask that his charges be changed to reflect the attacker’s comments.