Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Blog

Yesterday, The Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing entitled “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.” Attendance at the hearing and the number of organizations submitting written testimony for the record were quite large, displaying a heartening level of solidarity with communities affected by hate crimes. AAI took an active role in the effort to urge for this hearing in the wake of recent attacks on places of worship across the country. 

The Chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), used his opening remarks to stress the seriousness of the problem of hate crimes and right-wing domestic terrorism. Senator Durbin argued that “the numbers speak for themselves,” noting that the 6,600 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2010 make up only a fraction of actual hate crimes. Going beyond the numbers, Senator Durbin also spoke passionately about the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek Wisconsin and the recent uptick in hate crimes against American Muslims and the vandalism of Mosques. Senator Durbin also took aim that those who seek to cover up or simply not acknowledge injustices in our society. “Some argue that we shouldn’t acknowledge our mistakes,” Senator Durbin said. “I disagree. America is a country that can look itself squarely in the mirror.”

The first panel included current staff members from the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI who work on Hate Crimes and Domestic extremism. Each of these panelists lauded their organizations work on these issues. Senator Durbin however, pressed each of these panelists on how they could do better and how they might focus on prevention rather than simply prosecution of Hate Crimes. Also in attendance and questioning the witnesses were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Kohl (D-WI).

The second panel included Daryl Johnson, who authored the widely criticized report on the threat of right wing domestic terrorism during his tenure at DHS. Also on the panel was Harpreet Singh Saini, who lost his mother in the Oak Creek Wisconsin shootings, and Professor James B. Jacobs from the NYU School of Law. Daryl Johnson gave testimony on how the government, particularly DHS, is not giving the threat of right wing extremism the attention it deserves despite an upsurge in recruitment and violent attacks. Johnson described his own experience at the DHS, in which his department was gutted in response to political pressure after his 2009 report. He noted the common criticism that right wing extremism takes diverse forms, but pointed out that Islamic terrorism is also treated monolithically despite there being varying groups with disparate aims. Johnson warned that an “entire generation of law enforcement” is not being trained on how to detect and combat right wing violent extremism. When asked by Senator Blumenthal what the greatest obstacle facing DHS is on matters of right wing terrorism, Johnson said there was room for improvement across the board, including information sharing, analytics and data, training, and staff resources.

The testimony from young American Sikh Harpreet Singh Saini was incredibly moving. He gave a harrowing account of what his family and community experienced that day during worship in Oak Creek. He urged government agencies to devote resources to combating violence against the Sikh community, saying “we cannot solve a problem we do not acknowledge.” Harpreet also noted that the FBI and other government agencies do not track hate crimes against Sikhs and asked the Committee “for the dignity of making my mother a statistic.”

Professor Jacobs of NYU provided an opposing viewpoint, as he argued against hate crime laws. Jacobs contended that hate crime laws are both unnecessary and divisive, as they create a “hierarchy of victims.” Each of the Senators in attendance took issue with Professor Jacobs argument. Both Senators Durbin and Blumenthal pointed out contradictions in Jacobs’ argument on matters of intent and burden of proof.

The testimony of the witness and the powerful statement made by packing the hearing room was an important step in addressing the issues of hate crimes and violent domestic extremism. The hearing as a whole was a testament to the government’s imperative to combat the tide of violent hate that affects American Sikhs, American Muslims, and Arab Americans for no other reason than their identity.

comments powered by Disqus