The FBI’s advisory policy decided this month to begin tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, but it will be 2015 before law enforcement officers begin to report bias incidents.
The board met in Portsmouth, Virginia, on June 5, and decided to modify the FBI’s data collection procedures to begin including Sikhs, and all self-identified religions in the United States, the FBI said by email.
The agency will use religions designated by the Pew Research Center and the US Census Bureau as its bias categories on its hate crimes reporting form, which is used nationally by law enforcement.
The recommended list includes Atheism/Agnosticism, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic (Muslim), Jehovah's Witness, Jewish, Mormon, Multiple Religions-Group, Orthodox, Other Christian, Other Religions, Protestant and Sikh.
The report also will include an anti-Arab category.
The recommendations require approval by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller before official implementation, the agency said. Upon approval, the FBI will make the necessary program changes, procedural changes, and manual revision to begin collecting this data.
“The FBI anticipates collecting this information in 2015,” said Billy Estok, spokesman for the FBI, by email. But it will not record any hate crimes that have happened before then, including the massacre at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara.
The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, first requested that the FBI begin tracking hate crimes against Sikh Americans, as it does for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Atheists, more than two years ago.
According to the coalition’s surveys in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, approximately 10 percent of Sikh adults said they experienced physical violence or property damage because of their religion.
“This suggests that Sikhs may be hundreds of times more likely than their fellow Americans to experience hate crimes,” the coalition said in its news release.
The shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara, on Aug. 5, 2012, where six worshipers were gunned down by a white supremacist, seemed to increase the urgency to track hate crimes. A Senate subcommittee held the first hate crime hearing that September.
Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother Paramjit Kaur was killed at the gurdwara, gave a tearful testimony to committee members.
“I came here to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” he said.
But, surprisingly, the FBI did not designate the massacre as a hate crime.
More than 140 members of the House and Senate, and US Attorney General Eric Holder, officially supported adding hate crime tracking categories for Sikhs, the coalition said in its news release.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Harpreet Singh said in the news release. “No one else will have to suffer what my brother and I suffered after losing our mother to a hate crime last August.”
While awaiting the policy board’s decision, Sikhs have continued to experience hate attacks, including ones in California and Florida.
“The new changes will strengthen diagnostic and deterrence efforts, increase awareness about Sikhs among law enforcement officials nationwide” said Rajdeep Singh, the coalition’s law and policy director, in the news release. It also will “encourage Sikhs to begin reporting hate crimes to local, state, and federal authorities.”
This effort was also coordinated with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Community Relations Service, the Hate Crime Coalition, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Japanese American Citizens League, South Asian American Policy and Research Institute, South Asian Americans Leading Together, the Sikh Coalition, Hindu American Foundation, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, National Network for Arab American Communities, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and the Anti-Defamation League, the FBI said.