Members of Congress Mar. 25 praised the release of a new FBI manual on hate crimes, which includes specific tracking of violence against Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.
The new manual – “Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines And Training Manual” – was released by the FBI on Feb. 27. The manual contains specific directives on tracking hate crime victims who self-identify as Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs, amongst other religions. Previously, the federal Uniform Crime Report did not disaggregate hate crime data for any South Asian American community, collectively adding them to the Asian American category.
Noting the wave of violence against members of the South Asian American community in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Indian American community activists have long pushed for Sikh, Hindu and Muslim check-boxes on the UCR form. In April 2012, Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY, led more than 100 members of Congress to sign a letter urging the FBI to track hate crimes against the South Asian American community. In June 2013, an FBI board agreed to modify the UCR.
The FBI noted in its newly-released manual that the Sikh Coalition, the Hindu American Foundation, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee had helped the agency to develop training scenarios depicting the situations that victims of hate crimes against these groups have encountered.
At a press conference Mar. 25 in Washington. D.C., Crowley and several members of Congress cheered the move, terming it “a significant milestone.”
“Time and time again, we have seen vicious attacks on members of Sikh, Hindu and Arab American communities. Tracking hate crimes is more than just putting a number in a column – it means giving law enforcement agencies the resources and information they need to help prevent this kind of violence in the first place,” he said.
Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., also hailed the FBI’s new tracking system. “I’ve been calling for these steps since I got to Congress because they’re important to confronting hatred and increasing public awareness about the crimes committed against often-targeted people. This is a big win for these communities, and a huge win for justice,” he said.
Bera – the lone Indian American in Congress – noted that the new initiative was especially significant for his constituency in Sacramento, Calif., and spoke of two elderly Sikh Americans, Gurmej Atwal, 78, and Surinder Singh, 65, who were fatally shot while on their daily walk through the semi-rural town of Elk Grove, near Sacramento. Both men wore turbans and beards, in keeping with the traditions of their Sikh religion.
Police have not yet identified a suspect in the murders.
Rep. Judy, Chu, D-Calif., noted there has been a 300 percent increase in hate crimes against South Asian Americans, post 9/11. “These are crimes of the worst kind that make entire communities fearful,” she said, adding: “The FBI’s recent updates to the hate crimes database to include these affected groups combined with its new training guidance will improve reporting and build a bridge of trust between law enforcement and these communities.”
“Until now, anti-Sikh hate crimes were not recognized by the FBI,” said Rajdeep Singh, director of Law and Policy at the Sikh Coalition, at the press conference. “Year after year, Sikh Americans were being targeted for harassment and violence because of their distinct identity.”
“For the first time, the FBI now officially acknowledges that Sikhs are targeted for being Sikhs. While refinements are needed to the agency’s tracking system and training standards, we are making progress,” said Singh.
Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, noted that community activists have been asking for a change on the UCR for about half a decade. (This is) “an important step that will ultimately aid the Sikh community as we continue to address the roots of anti-Sikh bias,” he said.
Reps. Mike Honda and John Garamendi, both Democrats from California, along with Reps. Grace Meng, D-New York, and Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, also attended the press briefing.
According to a press release from HAF, the organization participated in the drafting and submission of the edits to the manual as a member of the Hate Crimes Coalition, a group of NGOs representing various stakeholder communities affected by hate crimes. The updated manual incorporated submissions by HAF relating to the Hindu community, it said.
“We believe the manual can be a powerful tool for law enforcement officials to fight anti-Hindu hate crimes,” Harsh Voruganti, HAF associate director of Public Policy, said in the press release. “We look forward to continue to working with the FBI and our coalition partners to further improve the manual and other community resources.”
The release also coincides with a rise in anti-Hindu hate crimes across the country, including several attacks on Hindu temples, as well as anti-Hindu vandalism and graffiti in the last year.