State House in Connecticut unanimously passes stronger bill on hate crimes

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FBI Director James Comey, honoring Swaranjit Singh Khalsa of Connecticut in 2016, with an award for his work on spreading awareness in the community and among law enforcement agencies, to prevent hate crimes. (Photo: FBI.gov)

The Connecticut state House May 10, unanimously passed a bill toughening the penalty for hate crimes. The Indian-American community, especially Sikhs, were instrumental in spreading awareness about the problem of bias crimes in the state and nationally.

State Rep. William Tong, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, led the House in unanimously approving legislation that makes the commission of a hate crime a felony and increases potential penalties if convicted.

“We need to send a clear and unmistakable message that we will not tolerate hate crimes in Connecticut,” Tong is quoted saying in a press release on his website. “When a person becomes the target of a crime because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, it is an attack on everyone in our society.”

Tong introduced House Bill 5743, under which commission of a hate crime is a felony. The bill also makes violence and threats based on gender prosecutable as a hate crime and makes threats against houses of worship or other religious facilities a more serious felony charge. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Sikhs in Connecticut relying on the dictum that prevention is better than the cure, have played a frontal role in reaching out to non-Sikhs to spread awareness about the community.

Last year, the FBI honored Connecticut’s Swaranjit Singh Khalsa “for his mission to educate people on tolerance, respect for differences, and ways to live in a peaceful society without hateful ideology,” according to an FBI release on recipients of the honor in 2016. Khalsa also worked with the state Justice Department program called AMS (Arabs, Muslims & Sikhs) which seeks to inform all first responders such as firemen police officers, etc., on how best to handle situations involving these minorities.

The Connecticut Record-Journal noted the bill’s passage comes after a series of high-profile hate crimes in the state and nationally late last year and earlier this year. Besides, in the tri-state area, especially in New York, there have been several cases of bias crimes against Sikhs. Bullying of Sikh children in schools is another issue of concern for the community.

“Unfortunately we have stories of real facts and situations that have taken place throughout the state of Connecticut,” the Record-Journal quoted Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, saying on the state House floor. “I think this is certainly responsive to that.”

In November 2015, shots were fired at a Meridan, Conn. mosque. A report in Sikh24.com in March 2016, noted, “Due to the increase in hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims as well as the recent vandalization of various religious places of worship, the Department of Justice in Connecticut is stepping up efforts in their educational program called AMS (Arabs Muslims and Sikhs).”

The report also noted that Indian-American Sarala V. Nagala, assistant United States attorney of the District of Connecticut, “is working hard to make this program (AMS) active and is putting the state’s resources towards it.” Khalsa alone gave five to ten presentations per month to various police departments around Connecticut.

 

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