SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- An East Palo Alto man with a criminal record in Santa Clara and Alameda counties is charged with more than a dozen hate crimes targeting older Hindu women of Indian descent. In some cases, it's believed he broke women's arms and beat their husbands all for their gold jewelry.
According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney, 37-year-old East Palo Alto resident Lathan Johnson is being held without bail for targeting at least 14 Hindu women, wearing traditional attire and jewelry in a robbery spree lasting two months. The ages of his victims: between 50 and 73.
ABC7 News caught a glimpse of him in court Tuesday morning.
DA Jeff Rosen spoke to ABC7 about what they're alleging he did.
"Rips off their jewelry, drags them down the street breaks their writs, beats up their husband and terrorizing them is much worse than a property thief."
Gold jewelry is ceremonial and for many, a sacred part of Hindu culture. With a number of Indian holidays and festivals coming soon, spreading awareness, according to Samir Kalra of the Hindu American Foundation, is crucial.
"Our community feels vulnerable and fearful."
Kalra applauds the actions of the DA and is calling for more counties to charge crimes targeting Asian Americans as hate crimes.
"We are facing an uptick in hate crimes and online Hindu-phobia. Seeing that we're making progress in prosecuting to the fullest sends a strong message," he said, outside the courthouse.
Online message boards from various cities with large Indian populations show dozens of community members are aware of incidents where Hindu women are targeted for their gold.
Shankar Kenkre shared with ABC7 how his own mother was targeted in an unrelated non-violent attack for her gold necklace several weeks ago in Foster City. He posted the incident on Nextdoor and was flooded with comments from other Indians saying it had happened to them or a loved one. Kenkre is grateful his mother was not physically assaulted, but chose to speak out to encourage others to warn their elders.
DA Rosen says there may be more victims which is why we're sharing Johnson's mugshot. They're asking anyone with information come forward.
Johnson reminds in custody with no bail. He faces a maximum penalty of 63-years behind bars. His next court date is set for Nov. 4.
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