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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Asian Americans Remain Vigilant Against Hate Crimes

On July 1, 2007, Satendar Singh, a 26-year-old Fijian man of Indian descent, was picnicking by a lake with his friends when he was beaten to death in what witnesses say was an ugly racial hate crime. Singh’s friends said that “a group of Russian-speaking men and women had directed homophobic slurs at Singh, and racial insults at his group before the physical attack,” according to a report in The Sacramento Bee.

No one else was injured in Singh’s group. Singh’s family members and doctors decided to end life support after four days. Singh is one of the latest victims in the growing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans.

According to a report by The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, on a national level, 46.3 percent of 11,430 offenses that occurred within the single-bias incidents were motivated by racial bias in 2001. Investigators determined 6.6 percent out of the 46.3 percent (5,290) offenses reflected an anti-Asian or anti-Pacific Islander bias.

In the post-Sept. 11 climate, experts say that Asian Americans are even more at risk of being victims of hate crimes.

In a nationwide Hate Crime Statistics Act study done by the FBI in 2001, the known hate crime offenses against Asian/Pacific Islanders were 349 compared to 317 in 2000. The number of victims in 2000 was 339 in comparison to 363 in 2001. The data on the report in 2001 was gathered post-Sept. 11.

Hate crime is an especially sensitive topic in the post Sept. 11 world, with the increase in hate crimes against South Asians. “There has always been an escalation of hate crimes against people who are deemed to be the other,” said Kavneet Singh, managing director of Washington-based Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He noted the recent rise in hate crimes against Sikhs who are mistaken to be Muslim. South Asians have to always look over their shoulders when they are out in public, Singh said.

He indicated that cultural beliefs are being compromised because of the fear of hate crimes.

“Sikh men specifically [are] shedding their turbans, shaving their beards.”
South Asian cab drivers or convenience store owners are even more at risk of hate crimes because they do not have any control over who they interact with publicly, he said.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans continue to plague the community 25 years after Chinese-American draftsman Vincent Chin was beaten to death because of his race. His case was a turning point for Asian-American activism for fighting hate crimes and finding justice within their community.

On June 19, 1982, Chin was beaten to death at his bachelor party in Detroitby two unemployed auto workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz. Ebens and Nitz blamed the growing Japanese auto industry for taking their jobs away and killed Chin even though he is Chinese-American. Chin was attacked solely because of his racial appearance. Ebens and Nitz never served time. They received three years probation, which created enormous outrage from the Asian-American community.

At a panel discussion last month held by Asian Pacific Americans for
Progress to commemorate Chin’s tragic death, Asian-American community leaders say that the media and police don’t always necessarily view attacks against Asian Americans as hate crimes.

A hate crime last November against Hai Vo eerily resonates Chin’s case. Vo was beaten into a coma outside a bar in Grand Rapids, Mich. According to news reports, a group of men made racial remarks against Vo’s friends and family, who were celebrating a birthday that evening. Although Vo survived, he suffered many medical complications. None of the men accused of the crime was charged.

In June 2003, another crime that hit close to home for many San Franciscans involved five Asian-American boys who were beaten by a group of students who attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory high school in San Francisco. Though there were as many as 20 boys accused of the attack, only one was brought to trial and sentenced to community service.

San Francisco Police Commissioner Yvonne Lee said it is time to recognize how the authorities’ tendency to overlook the “racial angle” on a crime has influenced society’s opinion on hate crimes. She emphasized that Asian
Americans must speak out because a lot of cases slip under the media radar because authorities did not label them as hate crimes.

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, an internationally known independent law firm that specializes in fighting hate groups, just 44 percent of hate crimes are reported to police. They argue that some hate crimes don't make it into FBI statistics for various reasons: police may not necessarily report it as a hate crime; their departments may not report hate crime statistics to state officials; and in turn those officials may not accurately report to the FBI.

“If we had taken the word [of] what the authority tells us, many of these hate crimes would never come out as a hate crime statistics, and without statistics we could not make a point,” Lee said. Chin’s crime was not initially labeled as a hate crime by the authorities. Instead, it was seen as just another bar room brawl. It was not until the Asian community pushed for further investigation that the case became one of the first high-profile hate crimes against an Asian American.

Helen Zia, an award-winning author and activist, was one of the primary activists involved in advocating justice for Chin and his family.

“None of us thought it would still be talked about 25 years later,” Zia said. She recalled that at the time, she and other activists were cynical that the Chin case could gain such momentum in the public eye. Lee pointed out that even with the increased dialogue on hate crimes, there is a lack of activism today compared to when the Chin case was on trial. She said the Asian-American community needs to personalize hate crimes and let people know that anyone can be a victim of a hate crime.

“Anyone of us has the potential of becoming a target of a hate crime,” Lee said. “Just because we have the best and the brightest in law enforcement working with the most determined in the community does not mean hate crimes will be addressed. We have to continue to be vigilant.” [Link]

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