Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Combating Hate Crimes against Sikhs: A Multi-Tentacled Approach

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

Combating Hate Crimes against Sikhs: A Multi-Tentacled Approach

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Four days after Al Qaeda terrorists launched their audacious, horrible hijack attack on the World Trade Center, Frank Silva Roque murdered Balbir Singh Sodhi.1 Roque drove away from the gas station that Sodhi owned and tried to gun down a man of Lebanese descent and an Afghani family.2 Sodhi was a Sikh.3 A fatiier of three was murdered by a man who tried to justify his actions by stating, "I stand for America."4 Sodhi's murder attracted international attention,5 yet hate crimes in America have not abated against people who are mistakenly thought to be Muslim terrorists.6 Sikhs are not Muslim, Arab, terrorists, or from the Middle East, yet tiiey are being targeted for hate crimes in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks conducted by Al Qaeda. Due to many of the attacks on Sikhs being a case of mistaken identity, their experiences with hate crimes are often categorized along with Muslims and Arabs. Yet, their identity, heritage, and experience are distinct.

When the United States Congress relaxed immigration quotas after 1965,7 American culture gained a more Asian flavor. Included in the group of immigrants who took advantage of the quota reform were the Sikhs, who primarily came from the Punjab state of India.8 Sikh men are noted for their turbans9 and full beards; both of which indicate spiritual devotion and temporal discipline worthy of keeping with the Khalsa, or Pure Ones.10 Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 videos and images of Osama bin Laden have created an air of hostility towards Sikhs, witii an uninformed American public equating the appearance of Sikh men with bin Laden's beard and Afghani-style turban.11 This mistaken identity has proven deadly for Sikh men.

This Note explores how life in America has changed for Sikhs since September 11, 2001, specifically addressing the rise of hate crimes. It analyzes the shortcomings in current hate crime legislation and policing, discussing strategies for statute drafting, police education, and public officials' role in preventing and punishing hate crimes. Part II provides background information on Sikhism and explains the cultural and religious significance of the distinctive appearance of Sikh men. Part II is not meant to be a substitute for a thorough analysis of Sikhism's unique place in the intellectual and spiritual history of the world, but is mainly intended to provide an overview of an ethnic group that only recently came to America in any large numbers and still remains a small minority. Part III describes the history of hate crime legislation and analyzes its role within criminal jurisprudence. This is not intended to refute the critics of hate crime legislation but rather to illustrate the historical position of hate crime legislation and to be a general justification for their place in modern jurisprudence. Part IV confronts the practical problem of hate crime legislation: policing them. For hate crimes to be properly addressed through law, the men and women who respond to the crimes must be trained and a relationship between police and the vulnerable communities must be established. Part V addresses the difficulties and boundaries that exist in trying to create a well-worded statute against crimes of bias. Parts VI, VII, and VIII explore solutions in the arenas of criminal statutes, law enforcement, and public leadership, respectively. Civil remedies, an area of great potential for action against hate, are not examined in this Note, which confines its analysis to the interplay among the state, the victims of hate crimes, and the perpetrators of hate crimes.

II. PERTINENT BACKGROUND ON SIKHS AND SIKHISM

There is no exact date of the founding of Sikhism, but it begins with the life of Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in a part of Punjab that is now in Pakistan.12 Guru Nanak was a Hindu by birth, but taught that all religions were equal and that there is only one god, who can be known and understood directly. …

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