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US Justice Dept urged to track hate crimes against Sikhs

By Aziz Haniffa
August 24, 2012 10:06 IST
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In the aftermath of the worst massacre of Sikhs in the history of the United States, when on August 5, 19 influential US Senators, led by California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, have written to US Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the Justice Department to track hate crimes against Sikhs.

The lawmakers said in their missive to Holder -- who was deputed by President Barack Obama and attended the memorial to the victims on August 10, during which he implied that the carnage perpetrated by Page was a hate crime -- that 'this tragic shooting is the latest hate crime committed against Sikhs in the United States'.

"From all indications, Wade Michael Page targeted members of the Sikh temple because of their religion," they said.

Feinstein -- chairperson of the select committee on intelligence -- and the other Senators said in their missive, "Although the limited data available suggests that a disproportionately high rate of violence and other crimes are committed against Sikhs, it is difficult to understand the true scope of the problem because the Department of Justice does not specifically track hate crimes against Sikhs."

They noted that "Sikhs are particularly susceptible to violence committed because of their identity, even if the perpetrator does not understand that the victim is a Sikh," and thus argued that "it is important to collect data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs because this data can identify trends and help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies properly allocate resources."

The Senators urged Holder "to take prompt action to ensure that hate crimes against Sikhs are recorded and tracked."

Besides, Feinstein, among the Senators who signed the letter, included, Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, John F Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat and Senate Majority Whip, Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

The Sikh Coalition, the premier civil rights organization on behalf of Sikh Americans, pointed out that the plea that the Justice Department and the FBI track hate crimes against Sikhs was a longstanding demand of the Sikh Coalition and recalled that in April, working with the Sikh Coalition, Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans had led over 90 members of the US House of Representatives calling on the Justice Department to begin tracking hate crimes against Sikhs.

Crowley, in his letter to Holder, which has yet not been replied to, said, "The more information our law enforcement agencies have on violence against Sikh-Americans, the more they can do to help prevent these crimes and bring those who commit them to justice."

"The Department of Justice and FBI have carried out important outreach efforts in coalition with the Sikh community, but these efforts must also be paired with data collection to ensure we are doing everything possible to crack down on hate crimes against the Sikh community," he said.

Crowley's letter called for the FBI to update the Hate Crime Incident Report Form (1-699) to include crimes committed against Sikh-Americans. While the FBI tracks hate crimes committed with a bias against particular groups, there is no designation on the Report Form for hate crimes committed against Sikhs.

The Report Form serves as the primary mechanism for the federal government to document hate crimes committed in the US and is related to the allocation of law enforcement resources to abate such crimes.

Excluding Sikhs in hate crime data collection efforts not only diminishes the safety of the 500,000 strong Sikh-American community, but also weakens the quality of hate crime data overall, Crowley and the lawmakers argued.

In his letter to Holder, Crowley, citing specific instances of hate crimes against Sikhs, noted, "As you know, many Sikh-Americans have been subjected, unfortunately, to bigoted hate crimes. In the last year alone, two Sikh-American men in Sacramento were murdered, a Sikh Gurdwara in Michigan was defaced and a Sikh-American man was beaten in New York."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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