Hate Crimes: Its History and Society’s Role Against It

Opinion piece by: Amanpreet Singh, UNITED SIKHS volunteer

An Opinion piece by Amanpreet Singh, 22-year-old UNITED SIKHS volunteer. Amanpreet aspires to become a family/immigration lawyer.

                Hate crimes have been a problem throughout America’s history and still remains a problem for this great nation. A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator attacks the victim due to their ethnicity, physical appearance, religion, or sexual orientation. As a kid I learned about attacks against African Americans in the 1800s by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacists. They believed African Americans were inferior to them and did not deserve the same rights, such as the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was passed to help stop violence perpetrated by the KKK. One of the most brutal cases we were taught about was the Emmet Till murder that took place in 1951 in Mississippi. A fourteen-year-old African American boy was savagely beaten and then shot dead for looking at a white woman. The jury found the two white men that committed the crime not guilty. This trial highlighted how bad racial prejudice was in the south during that time period. A few years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law which aimed to put an end to racial segregation in the public, work, and schools. For the first time whites and minorities were to be given equal rights in a country who’s founding principles were based on freedom and equality. These stories of hate and racially motivated attacks are in books across the U.S. and taught to every child. Something these history books fail to mention and is not taught in the classroom are the hate crimes committed against Sikhs.

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with around 25 million followers around the world. Sikhism is often misunderstood by the general public. Growing up, my younger brother and I were not only the only sardars in our school but also the only Sikhs. Besides the usual teasing that took place in elementary school, life was normal.

But that all changed on September 11, 2001. I still remember to this day sitting in my forth grade class and the teacher telling us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I remember going back to school and being called a terrorist and Osama because I wore a patka. I remember an incident where I was with my parents at a store and one of the workers called my dad Osama. Fortunately for us it never escalated further than being called these names. But some Sikhs in America were not so fortunate. Four days after the attacks, a man named Frank Roque was heard saying he wanted to “shoot some rag heads” and then he gunned down a gas station owner in Arizona, Balbir Singh Sodhi.  Thankfully justice was served and Roque is serving life in prison without parole. This was the first of many attacks against the Sikh community in the United States. Since 9/11 more than 300 hate crimes have been committed against Sikhs.

One of the most notable of these attacks took place in Oak Creek Wisconsin in the summer of 2012. I remember I was in England at the time and went on CNN on my phone and saw the breaking news that a shooting had taken place at a Gurudwara in Wisconsin. I couldn’t believe that something so horrific had happened. In the past there had been reports of vandalism at Gurudwaras in the U.S., but never a shooting. Wade Micheal Page, the perpetrator of the shooting, had ties to white supremacist groups. He entered the Gurudwara shot and killed six people before killing himself. The one thing that saddened me even more was hearing people in the Sikh community saying, “Why did that man attack a Gurudwara? We are not terrorists so why do people confuse us for them?”

The most effective way to prevent these hate crimes is education. After this tragedy the news and law enforcement became more aware and educated about the Sikh community in America. They learned about the principles of Sikhism and why we wear a turban. As a Sikh I have seen the change in the public; people are more accepting of my religion and how I dress. People will come up to me in the streets and ask why I wear a turban and what the significance of the kara is on my wrist. If people are a taught about different religions and cultures from a younger age they will grow and be more accepting of other people’s religion and culture.

Only through educating people can we stop these vicious attacks, we are all Americans and all have the responsibility to help each other and not let acts like these happen again.  Finally, we as Sikhs need to take a stand against all hate crimes, not just ones committed against us. Our Gurus taught us to stand up for everyone. A crime against one race or religion is a crime against all of us; we are all humans and created equal in the eye of God.

 

 
Opinion piece by: Amanpreet Singh, UNITED SIKHS volunteer

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