On September 19, 2012, I was honored to be able to attend the U.S. Senate’s Hearing on Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism. Here is a link to the hearing video.
Members of Sikh and Other Communities Attend Senate Hate Crimes Hearing
The hearing was convened, in part, in response to the Oak Creek Gurudwara shooting. One of the goals of the hearing was to have the FBI commit to tracking data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs. From what I’ve learned here in Washington, collecting data about a problem is crucial in changing government policy about it (read why Complainers are American Heroes here).
Photos of the shooting victims were displayed at the hearing.
I was shocked to learn that even though numerous hate crimes have been committed against U.S. Sikhs, including the heinous murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (his killer wanted revenge against someone he thought looked like a terrorist), the FBI is not currently counting hate crimes against Sikhs.
At the hearing, Senators heard testimony from several individuals, including Harpreet Singh Saini, a son of one of the shooting victims, Paramjit Kaur Saini. This brave young man moved the hearing room to tears with his powerful words, “I want to tell the gunman who took her from me: You may have been full of hate, but my mother was full of love.”
Harpreet described the problem perfectly:
“Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”
At the hearing, Senator Dick Durbin asked why, after 2 years of demands by Sikh groups, the FBI still did not collect data about hate crimes against Sikhs. FBI Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Michael Clancy answered that the FBI would be convening a meeting in October to obtain the input of numerous religious groups to design forms that would capture information about hate crime victims, including Sikhs.
THE IMPACT OF THE HEARING
Clearly, the hearing served some important purposes.
1. It showed elected officials the power of Sikh and allied communities.
Over 400 people attended the hearing, and Senate staffers had to accommodate about 100 people in an overflow room.Over 400 people attended the hearings, including individuals from Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu communities; groups such as the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center; and elected officials including Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
Eventually the line looped around in a switchback because so many people wanted to attend the hearing.
2. It encouraged South Asian Americans to become more politically active.
This was my first time attending a Senate hearing. I hadn’t realized that through concerted action, our communities could change FBI policy. But when they aren’t serving the safety needs of our communities, we can.
It was amazing to be part of an audience of primarily South Asian Americans at a U.S. Senate hearing. Many of us were first-timers.
3. A Lesson: Who You Elect Matters, and Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Elected Officials
With election season in full swing, this is a crucial lesson to take home. It matters who we elect, because they are who we depend on to ensure that federal, state, and local policies serve our communities.
Senator Durbin talked about his ongoing relationship with Sikh Coalition Co-Founder Amarjeet Singh, who urged him to help change FBI policy about collecting hate crime data regarding Sikhs.
Have you attended local, state, or federal government events? Which one? What did you think? How do you think South Asian Americans can get more involved with our government?