In response to the Aug. 5 attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. that left six dead and four wounded, members of the U.S. Senate and the victims’ families are seeking to strengthen laws already in place for prosecuting hate crimes in America.
Members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations arranged a viewing of the Senate’s hearing on hate crimes and domestic extremism at their headquarters, 28 E. Jackson Blvd., on Sept. 19. The hearing, hosted by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, focused on exposing hate crimes and preventing domestic extremism in America.
“I want to thank Sen. Durbin for the amazing leadership he is showing by improving the reputation of a politician,” said executive director of CAIR’s Illinois chapter Ahmed Rehab. “He is showing that you do not have to be weak on national security in order to be strong on civil rights.”
Durbin led the committee hearing and demanded further investigation into the nation’s hate crime laws and their limitations.
The meeting was held to add the Sikh religion to the classification of groups targeted for hate crimes. Durbin noted the government is moving too slowly on requests for the data needed to mandate
The committee was organized shortly after the recent riots across the Middle East, during which protesters killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. An anti-Islamic film trailer, posted on YouTube by an obscure filmmaker, insulted the Prophet Muhammad and ignited the protests.
“America is strongest when we lead by example,” Durbin said. “We are a country that can look ourselves straight in the mirror and know that there is work that needs to be done to secure the promise of equal justice for all.”
Harpreet Singh Saini of the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., whose mother was murdered in the August attack, spoke out for the first time following the hearing. As members of the crowd lamented his struggle, Saini offered a different perspective on the issue, saying that an attack on one religion is an attack on all religions.
“This was not supposed to be our [family’s] American story,” Saini said. “This was not my mother’s dream. I just had my first day of college, and my mother wasn’t there to send me off.”
The FBI will gather information from an array of religious groups in October and offer recommendations to the Senate on whether the law should include hate crimes against Sikhs and other religions, according to Roy Austin Jr., an official for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Austin noted that there were 6,628 documented incidents of violence in 2010 against all religious groups in which hate was a motivating factor.
Durbin also questioned Michael Clancy, deputy assistant director of the FBI, about whether there was a breakdown in communication after Saini stated that the killer, Wade Michael Page, who was shot dead by police, was on the FBI’s watch list.
According to Clancy, Page had not presented a significant enough risk to prompt the FBI to open an investigation against him.
Durbin made sure his message was clear: No matter how insulting the speech or how radical the beliefs, people’s rights will always be guaranteed.
“In recent weeks, we have seen that the rest of the world does not appreciate our approach [toward] hate speech and blasphemy,” Durbin said. “So let me be clear: Under our constitution, we punish criminal acts, not free speech.”
He added that Congress should redouble efforts to combat the threat of domestic terrorism.