By Bill Parry
An Astoria store owner who was beaten in an anti-Muslim hate crime attack just over a year ago traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend President Donald Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday night as the guest of a Queens congressman.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D–Jackson Heights) invited Sarker Haque to the speech, saying that despite the attack, Haque’s story still embodies the best of the immigrant experience.
“The victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime, Sarker is emblematic of the American dream,” Crowley said. “He immigrated to this country in search of a better life, and now he owns his own business in Astoria.”
In December 2015, Haque was inside his store, the Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue near 23rd Street, when a mysterious man entered and declared, “I kill Muslims.” Piro Kolvani of Jacksonville, Fla., then allegedly proceeded to beat the 53-year-old Haque until a customer intervened, police said. Kolvani’s case is still pending, with his next court date set for March 13, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
In the days following the attack, Haque received an outpouring of support from the multi-cultural Astoria community and elected officials. Crowley visited his shop to present Haque with an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.
“The congressman and his staff have been excellent to me, they’re unbelievable,” Haque said Wednesday in an interview after returning to Astoria from Washington, D.C.
As for Trump’s speech, Haque said, “He’s the same actor doing the same acting, but a little soft-boiled. His tune seemed a little softer than we’ve seen in the past.”
Crowley, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, had a far different reaction.
“The president’s speech doubled down on many of the worst actions his administration has taken during his first 40 days in office, including reinforcing the White House’s support of an unconstitutional Muslim ban, and Republicans’ desire to see individuals deprived of affordable health care options,” Crowley said.
Meanwhile, Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric trickled down to Crowley’s district on the same night of the speech.
During a Community Board 4 public meeting, board member Ann Phoser Darby said, “Once Trump removes all the illegals from Corona, there won’t be anybody to ride bike lanes.”
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D–East Elmhurst) who has been fighting for bike lanes and other safety measures on 111th Street for years, was outraged.
“This is a shockingly racist and xenophobic statement from a public servant. Such comments, which are unambiguously racist and morally repugnant, will not be ignored nor met with silence or indifference,” Ferreras-Copeland said. “Community Board 4 represents a large immigrant community which is vital to our city’s economy and civic society. These comments raise legitimate concerns that this bigoted attitude is behind delaying necessary improvements on 111th Street, which CB4 has obstructed for the past three years. I am demanding the immediate removal of this board member for promoting hatred and ignorance. It is time she is removed and is replaced with someone who is serious about restoring the people’s trust in their government.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr