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Simran Jeet Singh Headshot

Hate, Congress and the FBI: Rethinking How We Track Hate Crimes in America

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Two weeks ago, Florida resident and Sikh American Kanwaljit Singh was driving with his 13-year old son when someone pulled up next to him in a pickup truck and opened fire. Two of the bullets struck Singh in the thigh and torso, and after about a week in the Intensive Care Unit, he is now recovering at home with under the care of his family.

According to Lyda Longa, staff reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Police believe the victim was the target of a hate crime and was singled out because he was wearing a head turban traditional to the Sikh religion." Longa also reported that the attackers followed Singh's vehicle for miles before opening fire on him.

About two months ago, a woman in New York City, Erika Menendez, was charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime. Menendez was responsible for the death of Hindu American Sunando Sen: He was crushed by an oncoming train when she pushed him onto the tracks of an elevated subway station.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown quoted Menendez as telling the police: "I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I've been beating them up."

Under federal law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is required to compile statistics about hate crimes in the United States. Although the FBI tracks hate crimes against people from a variety of communities, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and atheists, it does not track hate crimes against Sikhs and Hindus. Such crimes are either erroneously documented as "anti-Muslim," due to an armchair assumption that Sikhs and Hindus are always "mistaken" for Muslims, or relegated to an "anti-Other" category, which the FBI does not disaggregate and which is effectively an empty data set. Hate crimes against Arabs are also not documented, even though American-Arabs -- most of whom are Christian -- continue to be targeted by bigots. These deficiencies lead to major problems, including an absence of credible data on hate violence committed against particularly vulnerable communities, and the inability of law enforcement agencies to understand the scope of the problem and address it through efficient resource allocation.

In an attempt to rectify these flaws and help curb the rash of hate violence against Sikhs, Hindus and people of Arab origin in America, Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) has taken it upon himself to lead the charge on this issue. He has prepared an advisory letter for the Department of Justice urging them to begin collecting data on hate crimes against Arab, Hindu and Sikh Americans. At the time of this essay's composition, 93 members of the House of Representatives had already endorsed this campaign within two weeks of its circulation.

While pleased with this progress, advocacy organizations are hoping to cull more support from U.S. Representatives. For example, The Hindu American Foundation, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Sikh Coalition have asked their constituent communities to voice their support for this policy change. Each of these organizations has worked to expedite the process by preparing simple templates that people can use to submit emails to their congressional representatives asking for support on this issue.

An improved approach to data collection will help us better understand the problem of hate bias in our society, and a better understanding will lead to an increased ability to address this problem. Given the rash of recent hate-inspired violence throughout the U.S., including the mass shooting in a Wisconsin gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) that left six dead and four wounded this past August, it seems prudent for us to begin focusing on this issue. Now that we have identified this problem and have a sense of its magnitude, we ought to take on the spirit of American pragmatism and begin resolving this problem before it gets any worse.

As it currently stands, our government is not adequately tracking hate crimes; rather, we are overlooking the violence endured by some of the most regularly targeted communities. Adjusting the current approach to include more accurate data is an important first step toward understanding and eradicating the problem of hate violence within our society.

For this reason, I implore the FBI, Department of Justice and Congress to follow the lead of Rep. Crowley and the 93 signatories from the House of Representatives. I also implore each of you to contact your representatives and urge them to support this effort. We can no longer afford to ignore this problem that has already claimed far too many lives -- it is time for us to begin tracking hate violence against American-Arabs, Hindus and Sikhs.

If you believe the government should begin tracking hate crimes against American Arabs, Hindus and Sikhs, please take 30 seconds to call your Congressional Representative today. Click here to find the contact information for your Congressional Office: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/