Senate Democrats Ask FBI to Track Hate Crimes Against Sikhs
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 12:13 am
Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother, Paramjit Kaur, was killed by a white supremacist on Aug. 5 at the Oak Creek gurdwara, testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing on hate crimes, on Sept. 19. His older brother, Kamaljit, sat behind him in tears as he listened to the testimony. A letter signed by 26 Senate Democrats urges the FBI to begin tracking hate crimes. A decision is expected in June.
Photo Source: Sikh Coalition
Twenty-six Senate Democrats sent a signed letter last week asking Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller to collect data on hate crimes against Sikhs.
“In the last 12 years, if anyone wanted to see what happened in terms of hate crimes, look at official statistics from the FBI, they would not even be able to guess that Sikhs have been targeted,” said Rajdeep Singh, director of policy and law for the Sikh Coalition. “We do not exist in the data.
“This is not an administrative nuance,” he added. “We’re not trying to get a check box. It is a declaration that Sikhs exist and are facing serious challenges.”
Led by Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Diane Feinstein (D-California), the senators sent the letter on Feb. 19 asking that the Hate Crime Incident Report Form used by law enforcement officers be amended to include Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs.
“It is important that the federal government begin tracking information about anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu and anti-Arab hate crimes as soon as possible so that law enforcement can more effectively respond to this threat,” the letter says.
The letter’s “purpose is to make one final push to persuade the FBI to begin tracking hate crimes,” Rajdeep Singh said. “Underlying all of this is the basic policy principle that you have to measure it (the problem), where the problem is, and where to allocate resources.”
The FBI is expected to make a decision in June.
“It shouldn’t be this hard,” he added. “We raised this issue in January 2011.” Since then many Sikhs have been seriously assaulted, and six were killed in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara massacre.
Two agencies of the Department of Justice – the Civil Rights Division and the Community Relations Service – has made the recommendation to the FBI’s advisory policy board for Criminal Justice Information Services, the letter says. “We urge you to expedite approval of these revisions… as soon as you receive the (board’s) recommendation.”
Following the shooting on Aug. 5 at the Oak Creek gurdwara by white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on hate crimes. Local Sikhs and families of the victims packed the Sept. 19 hearing.
“Among the witnesses who testified at the hearing was Harpreet Singh Saini, who lost his mother in the horrific massacre at the Sikh gurdwara…” the letter says. “He testified that he came to the hearing “to ask the government to give (his) mother the dignity of being a statistic” because “we cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.””
“Here you have human beings injured and killed, families broken because of violence. I would like to think this has an effect in the decision making,” Rajdeep Singh added.
Sikhs have frequently been the target of hate-motivated crimes due to their visible articles of faith, the senators said in the letter. Several organizations pointed out in the hearing testimony that the Oak Creek massacre was not the first hate crime against Sikhs.
“Bias motivated assailants have been responsible for brutal beatings, stabbings, shootings and murders of Sikh Americans for many years, including Balbir Singh Sodhi, the victim of the first 9/11 bias-motivated murder,” they said. “Since 9/11, the (justice department) has prosecuted three hate crimes against Sikhs.”
The letter mentions survey data from the Sikh Coalition that shows nine percent of Sikhs in New York City have been physically assaulted because of their articles of faith, 62 percent of Sikhs in Queens are bullied because of their dastaars, and 42 percent of students have been hit or touched because of their dastaars. Another survey showed that 10 percent of Sikhs living in the San Francisco Bay Area have reported physical assault or property damage. And 74 percent of the Sikh boys there have been bullied or harassed.
All 26 signatories on the Senate letter are democrats. Durbin’s office did not return SikhNN’s request for input on whether any Republican senators were approached to sign the letter. But it is unlikely.
At the September hearing, James Jacobs, law professor at New York University, testified that separate laws for hate crimes are unnecessary and “divisive.” Sitting next to him, Harpreet Singh quietly glanced at him many times as he argued in opposition to all hate-crimes initiatives.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-North Carolina, and the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, asked for Jacobs to be the sixth panelist. Graham did not attend the hearing.
“Prof. Jacobs was essentially the Republican witness,” said Amardeep Singh, programs director for the Sikh Coalition, a few days after the hearing. “This is not surprising since he, like many Republicans, do not agree conceptually with the idea of a hate crime.”
A similar letter, led by Rep. Joseph Crawley of New York (D-Jackson Heights, New York), is now circulating through the House of Representative.
“The Sikh community really needs to know that their member of Congress will sign on if Sikh constituents (make their voices heard),” Rajdeep Singh added. If someone is the only Sikh in an area, make the call but get five to 10 American friends to call, too.
“If Sikhs from all over country (and their friends) call in, that has an effect, a very, very significant impact.”
The Senate letter was co-signed by: Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-New York), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Mazi Hirono (D-Hawaii), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Scott Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).