Justice and FBI to Consider Tracking Hate Crimes Against Sikhs
Decision Expected in October
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 | 03:12 am
Reporting from Washington - The federal government will consider collecting statistics on hate crimes against Sikhs, a justice department official said Wednesday at a Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing.
“This incident has highlighted the question whether to reexamine the categories of religious groups that are listed on the (Federal Bureau of Investigation’s) hate crimes data collection form, a form that is used to capture the perpetrator’s motivation and not the victim’s background,” said Roy Austin, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, which is charged with prosecuting hate crimes.
“In the next few weeks, the (department’s) civil rights division and the community relations service will bring together a broad spectrum of religious organizations, including groups representing Sikh Americans to elicit their view on what information should be collected,” Austin said at the hearing on ‘Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.’
The announcement came ahead of a poignant testimony from Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother, Paramjit Kaur, was killed by a white supremacist on Aug. 5 at the Wisconsin gurdwara. His older brother, Kamaljit, sat behind him in tears as he listened to the testimony.
“Senators, I came here to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” said 18-year-old Harpreet Singh. “The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”
More than 150 organizations, led by the Sikh Coalition, requested the hearing in a joint letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 21, according to the advocacy group’s news release.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, set the hearing for Sept. 19. Durbin is the Senate assistant majority leader and chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
The hearing room at the Hart Senate office building and an overflow room at the adjoining Dirksen Senate office building were packed with about 400 people, mostly Sikhs. Six witnesses, three in each of two panels, testified at the hearing. Harpreet Singh was part of the second panel, which also included Daryl Johnson of DT Analytics, and James Jacobs, law professor at New York University.
“Although the justice department tracks crimes against other religious groups, it does not track crimes against Sikhs,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, who introduced Harpreet Singh to the subcommittee. “So, I am urging the justice department start doing something.
“Not only will it allow law enforcement to better understand the scope of the problem, it will also encourage Sikhs to report when they are victims. These are steps that we must take to ensure that we never again endure a tragedy like the one in Oak Creak.”
Harpreet Singh and his brother met with Kohl in his office before the hearing. Satwant Singh Kaleka’s son, Amardeep, and nephew, Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, also attended the hearing.
“It was clear that at least for the last 10 or 11 years, there has been ample evidence of prejudice against Sikh Americans, even violence against Sikh Americans,” Durbin said after hearing testimony from the first panel, which included Austin, Michael Clancy from the FBI, and Scott McAllister from the Department of Homeland Security.
The justice department collects information on hate crimes and publishes its Hate Crime Incident Report, which lists many religions, even those without religion, but it doesn’t list the Sikh religion, Durbin said to the panel.
“I know for two years Sikh Americans have been asking that there be a special category on hate-crime reporting so that we can keep track,” Durbin said. “Why don’t we have a special place for identifying hate crimes against Sikh Americans?”
Austin responded that Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole had announced the same day that the justice department is planning to bring together 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,” he said. The justice department will work with the FBI to hold the forum, which will receive input about both perpetrators and victims. In October, the department will present its findings to an FBI committee, and a decision will be made on including a ‘Sikh’ category for hate-crime data collection, Austin said.
“I think in light of the terrible incident in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, this will be a good thing for us to do as expeditiously as possible,” Durbin added.
After Harpreet Singh’s testimony, Prof. Jacobs surprised everyone by testifying that separate laws for hate crimes are unnecessary and “divisive.” Sitting next to him, Harpreet Singh quietly glanced at him many times as he argued in opposition to all hate-crimes initiatives.