Yesterday I attended a senate hearing on the rise of hate crimes in the U.S. The most recent hate crime event took place last month in Oak Creek, Wisconsin when a shooter shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple. Senator Dick Durbin was the subcommittee chairman holding this hearing and he made sure to point out the increase in amount of violence towards minorities in the past three years. He also made sure to list all the groups that have lately been targeted, including Latinos, Jews, Christians, African Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, and the LGBT community. Those who provided testimony were from Homeland Security, The Justice Department, the FBI, a professor from NYU and a young man named Harpreet Singh Saini who lost his mother at the Oak Creek attack. His testimony was powerful and very moving. I have no idea how he was able to deliver it while keeping himself together because almost every other person in the room (and there were over 400 people in attendance) had tears in their eyes. I was definitely one of them.
I was amazed and glad that the room was packed. This is something that our government and the entire country (heck let’s just say the entire world) needs to understand that hate crimes are no joking matter. It is not something to be taken lightly. Furthermore, this hearing was a breakthrough for the Sikh community. Although they are a significant minority in the U.S., hate crimes that have ever been committed against the Sikh community have never been categorized as hate crimes against Sikhs. It was always thought of as a case of “mistaken identity,” which basically means that our justice system just thinks that crimes against Sikhs and Muslims should just be lumped together because that is probably what the perpetrators most likely thought. That was messed up and Senator Durbin went on to question the men from the FBI, Homeland Security and the Justice Department why that was the case, as well as, what measures they will now be taking to prevent such heinous acts in the future.
The professor from NYU (and I am completely blanking on his name..sorry) brought up an interesting argument. He suggested that hate crimes should not be a separate category at all. A murder is a murder after all and the U.S. already has laws for punishment against murder, so why create a separate class? While I understood the claim he was trying to make, that by creating another group seems to divide us and make minorities stick out more, I ended up disagreeing with him. My father made a crucial point to me that the motive for a murder, kidnapping, robbery, etc. is very important. It is one thing to kill someone because you want their money or if they betrayed you, but it is quite another if you kill someone simply because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. A crime that has roots in something as hateful as that, which has triggered world wars in the past, deserves its own category.
In Harpreet’s testimony, he mentioned how a little over a month ago he never could have imagined being in Washington, D.C. let alone speaking at a senate hearing. At that time he was simply a guy about to go off to college. There was no reason he could have had to be at a place like this. One of the things that he said, that touched me personally was, “So many Sikhs say to just blame Muslims…but we won’t blame anyone else. An attack on one is an attack on all.”
If a young man who just lost his mother can have the courage to say something like that and mean it, why can’t the rest of us?