U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and today joined a bipartisan group of Senators in 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 alleged white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six people and wounded four others at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
"This tragic shooting is the latest hate crime committed against Sikhs in the United States," the senators wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder. "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."
The Justice Department, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (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.
Approximately 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S., including a large Sikh community in New Jersey that has been estimated to include 25,000 members.
Led by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the letter was signed by Senators Lautenberg, Menendez, Scott P. Brown (R-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), John F. Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
The letter can be viewed here and the 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.