At Senate hearing, Indian-Americans demand lawmakers make hate crime reporting mandatory

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Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who has suffered hate crime attacks three times since 9/11, the last one in 2013 which broke his jaw, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on hate crime May 2. (File photo)

Two leading Indian-American civil rights activists demanded U.S. lawmakers push through legislation making hate crime reporting mandatory around the country.

Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who was physically assaulted three times since 9/11, the latest in 2013 in New York City, said he had suffered psychological and physical effects from being attacked, and said emails from Sikhs and others around the country showed people were feeling insecure.

Vanita Gupta, the incoming head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the largest civil rights organization in the country with at least 200 member-organizations, pledged to work with Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Indiana., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Diane Feinstein, D-California, ranking member, to make hate crime reporting the law of the land.

They were speaking at an May 2 hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee entitled, “Responses to the Increase in Religious Hate Crimes.”

“I have a first-hand education in the impact of hate. I am an optimist by nature, but the last months have felt particularly cruel as stories of pain and hardship have rippled across the Sikh community,” Singh began his testimony. Sen. Grassley later apologized to Singh for the attacks on him. While highlighting the plight of Sikhs and detailing numerous instances of hate crimes on the community, Singh pleaded for making hate crime reporting mandatory and not voluntary.

“Words matter. Politicians must be held accountable for words they use,” Singh said, adding that he worries about his two sons and his father who brought the family from Kenya to the United States, and now lives in Indiana. There is a significant community of Sikhs in Indiana, Singh said, and they are worried and afraid.

Vanita Gupta, former chief of the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, testified May 2 before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on hate crime. (Photo of Gupta, Tuesday, March 21, 2017 in Washington. (Photo: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks).

Gupta, former chief of the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department, known for reforms in policing and training of law enforcement officials, during the Obama administration, thanked the committee for holding the hearing on the rise in hate crimes. ”

Today’s hearing comes at a crucial time, when too many people in this country feel unwelcome, unsafe, and marginalized. Divisive rhetoric during the recent presidential election, comments and policies targeting or casting wide aspersions on Muslim, immigrant, and other marginalized communities have heightened concerns that our country is increasingly legitimizing or normalizing hate,” Gupta said, adding that it was incumbent on everyone to prevent hate and bias crimes.

“Hate crimes have been referred to as this country’s original form of domestic terrorism,” Gupta said. “Religious freedom is the bedrock of our democratic republic,” she asserted, and anti-religious crimes had a much wider effect on communities.

Feinstein said she is willing to draft legislation making hate crime reporting mandatory, but pointed a finger at President Donald Trump quoting a saying, “Fish rots from the head,” and appealed to the president to refrain from dividing the country. The Senator asked those testifying to work with her on the legislation, an appeal to which they responded positively.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, focused on bullying in schools and questioned Dr. Prabhjot on that.

Gupta, when asked for her immediate recommendations said existing rules relating to hate crime must be implemented; the Justice Department needed to be proactive in communicating with groups affected by hate crime, including school bullying, and training of law enforcement was crucial.

“It is very important, in order to hae effective enforcement, there needs to be trust between these communities and law enforcement,” Gupta said.

Meanwhile, in the House, Indian-American Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, initiated a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, that called for combating hate crime. It has been signed by 68 lawmakers, including the other three Indian-Americans in the House, Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna from California, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington State.

The letter Rep. Krishnamoorthi drafted, follows Secretary Kelly’s visit to a Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus meeting in which the Secretary told members that he felt there was a need for the Department of Homeland Security to focus more on white supremacist organizations and hate groups.

“I was heartened to hear Secretary Kelly’s recognition of the threat posed by hate groups and other forces of intolerance,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “This letter urges the Secretary to act on that knowledge and use the resources of his department to combat both hate crimes and their root causes.”

 

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