WJBC: Group believes Champaign stabbing was hate crime

Dhammika Dharmapala photoCHAMPAIGN – A stabbing at the Champaign train station this week is not a hate crime, according to the charges filed by the state’s attorney’s office.  But an advocacy group disagrees.

Police say a University of Illinois faculty member, a Hindu from Sri Lanka who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was attacked by a man who said he wanted to save his country. The man accused, Joshua Scaggs, 23, apparently believed the man was “Middle Eastern.”

Amina Sharif, spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Thursday it’s important to discourage prejudice.

“(Hate crime laws) like those based on what happened to Matthew Shepard, the gay male who was murdered for being gay,” Sharif said. “I think that these laws are important. I’m glad they are in place, and they need to be used.”

Champaign County prosecutors maintain the attempted murder and aggravated battery charges carry more of a penalty than do the hate crimes. Sharif’s group believes hate-crime charges should be added.

Authorities say Dhammika Dharmapala is a law professor. His condition was not available from a local hospital. Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler said Dharmapala had a cut about 6 inches long and bled a great deal.

A witness told police Dharmapala was in a waiting area when another man jumped from a chair and shouted something about this being his country before attacking.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.