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Special category for Sikh Americans in FBI hate crime form

September 24, 2012 11:43 IST
Come mid-October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is likely to acquiesce to more than two years of pushing by the Sikh-American community and United States lawmakers and finally create a special category for Sikh Americans in the agency's hate crime monitoring form.

US Senator Richard Durbin, who held a hearing last week on hate crimes and domestic extremism in the wake of the horrific massacre of Sikh worshippers at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara last month, told reddiff.com after the hearing, that he would be unrelenting in the pursuit of getting the FBI to create a special category to specifically list hate crimes against Sikh Americans.

"I made a promise  and I intend to keep it, and I wish continue to push for this," he said.

Durbin added, "As you heard, the department of justice, said a decision will be taken in mid-October, and I expect it to be positive."

During the hearing, Durbin told a senior department of justice official Roy L Austin, Jr, deputy assistant attorney general, civil rights division -- who was testifying, that "a little later on this afternoon, Harpreet Singh Saini is going to testify here. He lost his mother at Oak Creek, and he is going to say, 'I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic.'"

The lawmaker asked Austin, "Why don't have a special place here for identifying hate crimes against Sikh Americans?"

Austin explained that "the department of justice, has met regularly with Sikh Americans and other faiths. And, we have heard this concern and we are going to take action with respect to this concern."

He noted that "Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole has announced that the civil rights division and the community relations service, are going to bring today a broad array of religious groups to address exactly what kinds of statistics should be kept, and we plan to invite and have spoken to the Sikh community as well."

Austin said, "The FBI has a process that is gone through before determining how the form is changed, and the department of justice will play an active role with respect to that process to ensure that the form properly reflects those who are perpetrators, those who are victimised by hate crimes."

Durbin complained that "things move pretty slowly at the federal level and the request has been there for more than two years," and pressed Austin to "give me some kind of indication when the decision might be made."

The senior DOJ official in response, said, "There will be a meeting in mid-October, in which what the department of justice finds will be presented to an FBI committee. At that point, the decision of the department of justice will be known."

Durbin then said, "In light of the terrible incident at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, this would be a good thing for us to do as expeditiously as possible."

Later, when Saini appeared before the committee to provide his testimony, Durbin informed him that "I asked a question of the first panel, based upon your request that a category be added to this report form so that the Sikh Americans would have some collection of statistics and numbers."

"And, I think the response was positive," he told Saini, "and I promise you that I will follow up with them to make sure that it is considered on a timely basis."

Earlier in the day, Cole, speaking at the community relations service Sikh cultural competency training preview at the department of justice, said, "This training could not be more timely.  The tragic events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin just last month are a chilling reminder of the need to do all we can to foster tolerance, understanding, and respect among the diverse faiths, communities and peoples that make up America."

He pointed out that "Sikh Americans have been part of the American family for many decades and in fact this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the first Sikh gurdwara in the United States. Yet many do not understand the long history of the Sikh faith and culture in America. It is our hope that with greater understanding of that rich history and the contributions of Sikh Americans, there will be greater respect for our common humanity."

"Sikh Americans must never be made to feel that their religious practices subject them to unfair scrutiny from their government," Cole said. "Sikh children should not have to wonder whether their faith in God will subject them to attack. No one should have to worry that they will be targeted with violence because of their religion. That is unacceptable and un-American, and we will do everything we can to prevent it."   

He said, "It is essential that we engage in respectful dialogue, so that we learn all we can from each other. We must also seek as much information as possible about the nature and cause of religious hate crimes, including those directed at Sikh Americans -- so that we can end them."

Thus, Cole noted that "the kind of training and outreach that CRS (Community Relations Service) has undertaken is a critical step toward that goal. In addition, CRS and the civil rights division will also be convening a town hall to explore this from the perspective of diverse religious groups."

Meanwhile, he announced that "we  will also ask the FBI's advisory policy board -- an independent federal advisory committee that is authorized to propose changes to the Uniform Crime Reports -- to examine whether the current hate crime reporting categories should be expanded to include additional categories of religious hate crimes -- particularly including hate crimes motivated by anti-Sikh bias."

Cole noted that "the advisory policy board includes representatives of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and it will make an independent assessment. We will ask that it look at this issue so that there will be a systematic process for considering this question.

"We hope that this training will help us develop a better understanding of Sikh Americans and the Sikh religion," he said, and added, "That is particularly important for those of us in law enforcement, both at the federal level and among our state and local partners."

Cole said, "The duty of law enforcement is to aid and protect every community equally -- leaving no one out. Perhaps one of the best examples of that was the selflessness of the officers who responded to the terrible crimes in Oak Creek, risking their own lives to protect those who had gathered in peaceful worship."

The Community Relations Service, created by the landmark Civil rights Act of 1964, has as its mandate to help state and local governments, private and public organisations, and community groups prevent and resolve racial, religious, and ethnic tensions, conflicts, and civil disorders.
Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC