Howard University

HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
CIVIL RIGHTS CLINIC

HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW—
CIVIL RIGHTS CLINIC

STATEMENT TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY CONCERNING THE HEARING BY THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION, CIVIL RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ON HATE CRIMES AND THE THREAT OF DOMESTIC EXTREMISM


For nearly 150 years, the Howard University School of Law’s primary mission has been to advocate and defend civil and human rights for all. As part of this mission, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic engages in trial and appellate impact litigation in the service of social justice, economic fairness and political equality. The Clinic litigates on behalf of indigent, prisoners, and pro se clients in federal and state courts on a range of civil rights matters, including but not limited to employment and housing discrimination, school desegregation, voting rights, police brutality, unconstitutional prison conditions, habeas corpus, and unfair procedural barriers to the courts.

The Clinic commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for convening a hearing on hate crimes and domestic extremism and now writes in support of the Sikh Coalition and the rest of the Sikh community’s efforts seeking Congress to provide comprehensive implementation of the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act; improvement to the federal hate crime data collection efforts; and increased awareness of the Sikh faith.

As a nation we derive our strength from people of different races, creeds, and cultures uniting in commitment to the freedom of all. However, the mass shooting of Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on August 5, 2012, is a grim reminder that Martin Luther King’s dream of a country where people are not judged by their appearance has yet to become a true reality.

The mass shooting in Oak Creek is not unique because it involved Sikh worshippers. Instead, it is an example of how, far too often, hatred left unchecked can lead to devastating tragedies. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the federal government failed to acknowledge the socially entrenched racism that created a separate and unequal America where African Americans were prevented from exercising their freedoms through state law and acts of violence.

Increasingly these days in our nation, religion, ethnicity, and race fuel the suspicion that one is not American and does not belong in this country. Each year, there are hundreds of thousands of victims of violence based on nothing more than appearance or lifestyle. Numerous Sikh men wearing turbans and beards are beaten or killed for appearing “suspicious.”

History should teach us that what may seem like isolated incidents of hate or domestic extremism can transform into greater injustice. Jim Crow laws and the internment of Japanese Americans serve as examples of what occurred in America when society permitted the targeting of individuals based on nothing more than appearance. Therefore, it is imperative that Congress take responsive steps to educate all Americans to act and react in celebration of all communities of color, instead of fear and suspicion against them. This country cannot afford to return to the pre-Civil Rights Act era.

More recently, misguided hatred was embodied in the killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Their deaths led to the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. However, more remains to be done. While religious hate crimes accounted for nearly one-fifth of hate crimes in 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not track religious hate crimes involving Sikhs. This must change. Effective data collection is necessary in order to respond and provide resources to prevent and deter future violence motivated by religious bigotry.

Howard University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic urges Congress to take the necessary steps in preventing massacres like the one in Oak Creek from reoccurring. Enhancing the civil rights of one community is a step forward for every community. The Civil Rights Clinic supports the Sikh community because no one should have to live in fear for their safety, simply because of their faith.











updated: September 18, 2012