911 anniversary

Flowers are placed at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York on Sept. 11, 2020, as the U.S. commemorates the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Nineteen years ago today, 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Our government's response, known as the "War on Terror," has cost more than 500,000 lives worldwide. This number does not even include the lives lost to interpersonal hate violence ignited by this state violence.

Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian American Sikh business owner, was planting flowers outside of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona when he was shot and killed. We later learned that his shooter had reportedly told a waitress at Applebees, “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel heads,” and “We should kill their children, too, because they’ll grow up to be like their parents.”

This was the first of 645 incidents of violent backlash aimed at Indian American and other South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans in the first week after 9/11.

Incidents of hate violence targeting our communities have continued unabated since 9/11. SAALT has tracked 679 incidents since 2015 alone. Today we renew our commitment to fighting the deeply entrenched federal policies that emerged from the “War on Terror," including the current Muslim ban.

In those early days following 9/11, we didn’t stand by and watch as our community members were harassed, targeted, and surveilled by the government. We came together, raised our voices, and demonstrated our power. Out of that moment came the creation of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, the National South Asian Summit, and the Young Leaders Institute and long standing coalition partnerships working toward significant policy wins like the end of the 2002 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System program all the way to the recent House passage of the No Ban Act. 

In the midst of this current public health tragedy that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities and has led to the death of nearly 200,000 people in the U.S., we’ve simultaneously seen a dramatic rise in COVID-related hate violence attacks targeting Asian Americans. In SAALT’s forthcoming COVID-19 report, we mark the different forms of hate violence, once again ignited by our government since the pandemic.

This current crisis, like all crises, has reinforced that we don’t all experience moments of crisis equally. Depending on class, immigration status, caste, religious or ethnic background, South Asians are targeted at different scales and magnitudes. At SAALT we’re dedicated to acknowledging these disparate experiences, but also what unites us across communities. Earlier this month in Irving, Texas, a South Asian family received hate mail saying if Indian and Chinese immigrants don’t stop taking American jobs, “we will have no choice but to shoot mercilessly immigrants of Chinese and Indian descent…” White supremacists don't necessarily distinguish within our communities with the same efficiency as our government, which is why building collective power is so critical.

On this anniversary, we honor all the lives destroyed by hate violence and state violence, and ask you to join us in fighting racism and white supremacy in all its manifestations.

South Asian Americans Leading Together

Takoma Park, Maryland

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