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FBI May Not Begin Tracking Hate Crimes Against Sikhs Until 2015

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2012 | 11:12 pm

The FBI has only begun the process of considering a change to its hate crime data-collection form. If the bureau agrees, hate crime tracking may not begin until 2015.

Photo Source: FBI.gov

Reporting from Washington - The FBI has begun the process of considering changing its hate crime reporting system to track attacks against Sikhs, but actual reporting may not begin until 2015.

The “Hate Crime Incident Report” is a data-collection form that all law enforcement officials use to document a perpetrator’s bias motivation. It includes seven types of bias: “Race,” “Ethnicity,” “Disability,” “Religion,” and “Sexual Orientation,” “Gender” and “Gender Identity.”

The seven categories currently under “Religion” bias include “Anti-Jewish,” “Anti-Catholic,” “Anti-Protestant,” “Anti-Islamic (Muslim),” “Anti-Atheism/Agnosticism,” “Anti-Multi-Religions, Group” and “Anti-Other Religion.”

“What does Anti-Other Religion tell you?” said Rajdeep Singh, law and policy director for the Sikh Coalition. “It can mean 20 other groups. It’s not built in way that allows hate crimes against Sikhs to be documented.

“The FBI tracks hate crimes against Sikhs as anti-Muslim bias,” he told SikhNN. “(But) some Sikhs are attacked because they are Sikhs.” Sikhs have been targets of violent attacks for more than 100 years, long before they were mistakenly associated with Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, he said. More recently, in 2007, a Sikh boy in New York City had his kesh forcefully cut by a Muslim attacker.

The Washington-based Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund first requested the FBI amend its hate crime reporting form in November 2010. The New York-based Sikh Coalition again made the request in January 2011, but was dismissed by the FBI the next month.

“Since then, two elderly Sikhs were murdered in Elk Grove, California; a Sikh cab driver was assaulted in Sacramento, California; a Sikh transit worker was assaulted in New York City; and six Wisconsin Sikhs were murdered by an attacker with known ties to hate groups in one of the worst bias-motivated massacres in recent American history,” the two Sikh advocacy groups wrote in a joint letter to the Department of Justice on Sept. 28.

In June 2012, the justice department responded to a House judiciary committee inquiry: “We recognize the possible value of establishing separate categories for “anti-Arab,” “anti-Sikh,” and “anti-Hindu,” but there is no current consensus on how to define these terms (for example, should they be based on geography, culture, religion, or native language?).” The department also said it was “premature” to seek the requested revision of the reporting categories.

But after the Oak Creak, Wisconsin, gurdwara shootings on Aug. 5, the issue ironically gained momentum.

Sen. Dick Durban, D-Illinois, convened the first hate crimes Senate hearing on Sept. 19 where Harpreet Singh Saini, the 18-year-old son of Paramjit Kaur, who was one of six sangat members killed in the attack, testified: “I came here to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

Roy Austin, a deputy assistant attorney general at the justice department, testified that it would make a decision on changing the form in October. But the long and complicated process to make the decision had only just begun that month.

The Department of Justice comprises 54 agencies, which include the Civil Rights Division, the Community Relations Service and the FBI.

On Oct. 3, the civil rights and community relations agencies summarized Sikh hate-crime issues at their roundtable meeting, and provided its findings on crime reporting to the FBI’s Advisory Policy Board’s Uniform Crime Reporting Subcommittee on Oct. 18, said Stephen Fischer, FBI spokesman.

The findings included the recommendation that an “Anti-Sikh” category be added under the “Religion” section of the form, said Dena Iverson, spokeswoman for the justice department. The agencies also recommended including an “Anti-Hindu” category under the “Religion” section and an “Anti-Arab/Anti-Middle Eastern” category under the “Ethnicity” or “Race” section, Iverson said.

This recommendation “incorporates significant feedback from a broad spectrum of religious and interfaith organizations,” she told SikhNN by email.

The subcommittee reviewed the recommendation on Oct. 18 during an in-depth Hate Crime Statistics Program discussion concerning Sikh and other religion biases, Fischer said. It also heard testimony from the Sikh Coalition, urging the addition of “Anti-Sikh” to “Religion” bias motivations.

Based on recommendations from the subcommittee, the FBI’s crime-reporting program is researching options for two topic papers to be presented for deliberation at the spring 2013 Advisory Policy Board meeting, he added.

“We anticipate this process will be ongoing until at least mid-2013, and will allow for input from a wide variety of stakeholders, including Sikhs and persons of other faiths,” Iverson added.

Once approved by the advisory board, these recommendations will be given to the FBI director for approval, scheduled for June 2013.

“When the recommendation to collect anti-Sikh bias is approved by the director of the FBI, the earliest time frame to collect a new bias category would be 2015,” Fischer said, by email. This would allow the FBI to revise its Hate Crime Incident Report, obtain approval for its use from the Office of Management and Budget, and develop system requirements to enable data collection.

“(But) such legislation does not bind the more than 18,000 contributing law enforcement agencies to report the data because participation in the (hate-crime reporting) program is voluntary,” he added.

“An imperfect but improvable system is better than no system at all, from a data collection standpoint,” Rajdeep Singh said, by email. “It is widely known that the true number of hate crimes in the United States may be several times higher than that which is actually reported, but the way to improve accuracy is to build on the system that we have in place.”

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