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Hindu priest Harish Chander Puri was attacked near the Shiv Shakti Peeth July 18, 2019, allegedly by Sergio Gouveia, 52, who hit him repeatedly with an umbrella. Indian American organizations have written to police to investigate the case as a hate crime, but New York Police Department Det. Ahmed Nasser told India-West: “Police have no record of the suspect uttering racist statements.” (screen grab of Pix11 video)

Hate crime levels have surpassed their highest levels in a decade, according to 2019 data released Nov. 16 by the FBI.

A total of 8,559 hate-based incidents were reported, with 4,784 incidents motivated by race or ethnicity; 1,650 attacks were based on the victim’s religion. A total of 15,588 law enforcement agencies participated in 2019; 2,172 agencies reported 7,314 incidents.

In California, Los Angeles County reported the highest number of hate-based incidents: 118 based on race, ethnicity, or ancestry; and 81 attacks based on a person’s religion.

STOP AAPI Hate, a portal launched this March after the COVID-19 pandemic began spiking in the U.S., has reported more than 2,700 instances of bias-related crimes against Asian Americans over the past seven months.

Fifty-one people were murdered in hate-motivated incidents, according to the report, the highest-ever since the FBI has collected such data. India-West in 2019 reported seven hate-motivated attacks against Indian Americans, three of which were fatal. This publication also reported three incidents of desecration of Sikh gurdwaras and a Hindu temple.

While the overwhelming majority of religiously motivated attacks targeted Jewish Americans, Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans also experienced alarming levels of violence. Some 219 Muslim Americans experienced hate-based incidents last year, the majority from White offenders; and 50 Sikh Americans and two Hindu Americans were targets of religiously motivated crimes, by both White and Black offenders.

The majority of race-based attacks were directed against Black people.

The FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports have a section for law enforcement agencies to report bias-related incidents — including race and ethnicity — but former FBI agent Michael German, currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program, said this is an unreliable source as police departments and county sheriffs voluntarily report data; reporting is not mandated.

Only about 12 percent of such crimes are reported, German said at a recent briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services. He noted that law enforcement agencies face push-back from local officials who don’t want the data reported.

“No mayor wants to be the state leader in hate crimes. So when your Police Commissioner comes to you and says: ‘Hey look at these hate crimes we’re going to report,’ and you’re trying to get some multinational company to build a factory, you don’t want to be known as the hate crime capital of the world. So there’s a lot of good reasons why the police don’t report,” said German.

An Associated Press investigation in 2016 found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country had not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI’s annual crime tally during the previous six years.

Previous Department of Justice studies estimate that an average of 250,000 people are victimized by hate crimes each year, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Sikh American community specifically saw a slight decrease in the number of reported anti-Sikh incidents in 2019 after witnessing a 200 percent surge in reported incidents from the 2018 report. “This change is of little comfort, however; extremely low reporting continues to fail to capture the scope of the bias, bigotry, and backlash that Sikhs face, and the community remains disproportionately targeted relative to its small size among the population,” said Nikki Singh, Sikh Coalition Policy and Advocacy manager, in a press statement.

“This underreported FBI data only reflects a slice of the lived experiences of Sikhs and other minorities throughout the United States, but it still paints a damning picture.”

“Even as deadly hate crimes increase, fewer law enforcement agencies are electing to report data to the FBI. Especially given the dangerously divisive political climate of the past four years, we should be reckoning with the problem of hate in America—not continuing to sweep it under the rug,” said Singh.

The Sikh Coalition is pushing lawmakers to pass the bipartisan Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, which, it said, would vastly improve hate crime reporting by mandating critical training for law enforcement and the establishment of hate crime reporting hotlines.

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