08.23.12

Senators to Justice Department: Revise Hate Crime Laws to Protect Sikhs

(THURSDAY, Aug. 23) -- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), together with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Scott P. Brown (R-Mass.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Thursday sent a bipartisan letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the Justice Department to allow for the collection and tracking of hate crimes committed against Sikh-Americans.

The letter comes following the August 5th tragedy in which white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six and wounded four other members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisc.

“This tragic shooting is the latest hate crime committed against Sikhs in the United States,” the senators wrote.  “Because many Sikhs wear turbans and do not cut their facial hair, they are often viewed as foreign and are easy to target for harassment and crime.  Thus, Sikhs are particularly susceptible to violence committed because of their Sikh identity, even if the perpetrator does not understand that the victim is a Sikh.”

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has long championed the federal hate crime laws that document hate crime incidents.

According to the Sikh Coalition, approximately 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S.  The Justice Department, through the FBI, tracks crimes committed against Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, atheists, as well as those with “other religion” or “multiple religions,” but does not currently track crimes against Sikhs.

“It is important to collect data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs because this data can identify trends and help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies properly allocate resources.  Until we have a more comprehensive understanding of the number and type of hate crimes committed against Sikhs, our law enforcement agencies will not be able to allocate the appropriate level of personnel and other resources to prevent and respond to these crimes.”

           

Full text of the letter follows:

August 23, 2012

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We write to respectfully request that you revise the Hate Crime Incident Report form (1-699) to allow for the collection and tracking of hate crimes committed against Sikh-Americans.

            As you are well aware, on August 5th, Wade Michael Page killed six and wounded four other members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  From all indications, Page targeted members of the Sikh Temple because of their religion.

This tragic shooting is the latest hate crime committed against Sikhs in the United States.  Over the past two years, two Sikhs in California were murdered, a Sikh temple in Michigan was desecrated, a Sikh transit worker in New York City was assaulted, and a Sikh taxi driver in California was severely beaten.  According to a recent survey of 1,370 Sikhs living in the California Bay Area, 10% reported being the victim of a hate crime.  Sixty-eight percent of those crimes were in the form of physical attacks.

Because many Sikhs wear turbans and do not cut their facial hair, they are often viewed as foreign and are easy to target for harassment and crime.  Thus, Sikhs are particularly susceptible to violence committed because of their Sikh identity, even if the perpetrator does not understand that the victim is a Sikh.

            Although the limited data available suggests that a disproportionately high rate of violence and other crimes are committed against Sikhs, it is difficult to understand the true scope of the problem because the Department of Justice does not specifically track hate crimes against Sikhs.  The Hate Crime Statistics Act requires the Department to maintain data on crimes committed on the basis of religion.  Pursuant to this law, the Department publishes the Hate Crime Incident Report for law enforcement agencies to complete when they investigate a suspected hate crime.  That form allows a law enforcement officer to denote that a crime was motivated by a bias against Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or atheists, among others.  The form does not allow an officer to denote that a crime was motivated by a bias against Sikhs.

            It is important to collect data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs because this data can identify trends and help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies properly allocate resources.  Until we have a more comprehensive understanding of the number and type of hate crimes committed against Sikhs, our law enforcement agencies will not be able to allocate the appropriate level of personnel and other resources to prevent and respond to these crimes.  Moreover, the collection of this information will likely encourage members of the Sikh community to report hate crimes to law enforcement officials.

We urge you to take prompt action to ensure that hate crimes against Sikhs are recorded and tracked.  Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

                                                            Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein                                              Patrick Leahy

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin                                            Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse                                        Al Franken

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Chris Coons                                                     Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Jeff Bingaman                                                 John F. Kerry

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Barbara Boxer                                                 Maria Cantwell

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Frank R. Lautenberg                                        Robert Menendez

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Sherrod Brown                                                Tom Udall

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Kirsten E. Gillibrand                                        Scott P. Brown

United States Senator                                       United States Senator

Mark Kirk

United States Senator

Cc:       The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III

            Director

            Federal Bureau of Investigation

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