Take On Hate: “The Power of Change is Driven by Us”

On Monday, the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) launched their long-awaited Take On Hate campaign, which is aimed at addressing the pervasive prejudice and discrimination faced by Arab and Muslim Americans. Numerous organizations, including SAALT, supported the campaign’s official launch at the National Press Club in DC.

After opening remarks from Nadia Tonova, Executive Director of NNAAC, civil rights allies spoke about the patterns of discrimination across communities and the importance of this campaign’s goal to create real, long-term change. take on hateMee Moua, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), reminded the audience of the importance of changing the narrative for all communities. “We need to change the conversation around Arab Americans from villains to everyday heroes,” she said, recalling the common theme that all communities of color have faced at some point in time. Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy of the NAACP, connected this campaign to the civil rights movements in the 1960s and the need for collaboration between all communities of color. Deepa Iyer, current Strategic Advisor and former Executive Director of SAALT, described the South Asian and Arab communities as sister communities based on their similar experiences with post-9/11 backlash and discrimination. Iyer asserted that the current hate committed against both groups has developed into a way of life that allows for such actions and instills fear in our communities. She continued the thoughts of Moua and Shelton with an emphasis on coalition-building and collaboration: “We can use Take On Hate to help us talk about hate in all forms. The power of change is driven by us.”

Take on Hate is a much needed reminder that we do have the power to instill change. In the constant and overwhelming face of prejudice and discrimination against people of color, it is crucial that our voices are heard and uplifted to drive forward change. Whether it was Fred Korematsu with the support of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in challenging the US government’s policy of internment during World War II, or Jose Antonio Vargas speaking out on behalf of undocumented immigrants throughout the US, we must play an active role in changing the dialogue and reactions of our society around those that are “othered,” so that society may finally begin to understand that we are Americans, we are human, and we all deserve dignity and respect. Skin color, religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, class, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other “identifiers” do not define us as worthy of anything less.

This nationwide campaign will begin in four cities this year – Chicago, Detroit, New York, and San Francisco, and will gradually grow as it is mobilizes support in different areas of the country. Through public education, social media, and coalition building, Arab and Muslim Americans will ensure their voices are heard in order to confront discrimination and advocate for policy change that benefits numerous communities.  Once we all commit to “Take On Hate,” maybe we can begin to move towards a country where all people are treated equally.

In support of the Take On Hate campaign, SAALT and NNAAC hosted a briefing this morning at the Capitol on racial and religious profiling as it impacts Arab and South Asian communities. Join the Take On Hate campaign today!
**************

Victoria Meaney
Program/Policy Fellow
South Asian Americans Leading Together

Impact of NYPD Surveillance: Limiting the Voices of Our Youth

Like any student who embarks on their journey through college, I spent much of my undergraduate years at American University discovering my identity, sense of belonging and interests in life.  As I reflect on those days not so long ago, I now realize how important being a part of a cultural student group was for me and the impact it had on my sense of identity. For me, my involvement in the Philippine Student Association played a significant role in how I came to identify, both individually and within a community. Knowing that, it is difficult for me to imagine experiencing those moments of self-searching and struggle while also having restrictions on my ability to find my community.

Imagine having your student organization be the target of a police surveillance program just for the mere fact that your student organization is racially, ethnically, or religiously-based.

Well, it happened in New York and beyond. Student groups, in this instance Muslim student groups, were targeted by the New York Police Department (NYPD). But, it doesn’t just stop there.

It’s not a secret that the NYPD has long-been spying on student organizations, places of worship and businesses.

large

Image from Politicker

In fact, just a few months ago, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released a report which documents this surveillance program and its impact on the Muslim community since its inception in 2002. Needless to say, the effects on the Muslim community have been drastic, causing individuals to restrict their speech and religious practice as well as their everyday activities. And, with the recent release of evidence that the NYPD has been conducting in-depth surveillance on Muslim Americans by designating them as “terrorism enterprises” and trying to infiltrate at least one local community organization, I can only imagine the impact that this will have on individuals. Moreover, as a recent college graduate, I can’t help but wonder what this means for 17 and 18 year olds as they embark on their college experience, a time many Americans use to find themselves, figure out where they belong, and build community.

Being a part of a student group and participating in cultural activities helped me to feel a sense of belonging and allowed me to learn more about Filipino culture and history during my four years at American University. It provided me a space in which to connect with peers who shared similar experiences and struggles. It’s disheartening to know that my peers will not have the same opportunity, which is such a big part of the college experience. What’s worse, if they chose to explore their identity in these traditional ways, their civil rights may be violated as well as their privacy.

We cannot not let the NYPD or other government agencies limit the ability of youth to find their identity or of anyone else to engage in their community by threatening their civil rights and religious freedom. We must demand accountability from our government agencies and officials. We must move forward — not backwards – because a better future is ahead of us. We owe this much to our youth, our communities, and our nation.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

In Pursuit of the “Dream”: We Reflect and Recommit

IMG_0484

Photo Credit: Bao Lor, SEARAC

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. This past weekend, to commemorate this important occasion, Asian American organizations joined thousands of people who gathered in the nation’s capital to participate in a march and rally titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream March”.. The purpose of this march and rally was not just to remember the legacy of Dr. King and the progress since his speech over 50 years ago, but to show that even today in 2013, inequality persists.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff rallying in solidarity

Among the Asian American organizations present at the March were representatives from SAALT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). And as part of the program on Saturday, Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF spoke and shared the stage along with other civil rights leaders.

The work still continues, especially within the South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities when it comes to decreasing hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and racial profiling following 9/11, and the tremendous disparities within South Asian communities from the standpoint of access to educational equity, jobs, and health care.

SAALT Programs Intern and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Victoria Meaney, reflected on the significance of the March, “Attending the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was monumental to me as a South Asian American. My ability to participate, in collaboration with SAALT really exemplifies the progress that has been made, based on the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their examples show the importance of the individual’s voice, and, by allying with others, the steps to a just society are possible. My hope is that future marches to come will have an even greater representation of South Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, because civil rights belong to all, but we will not be heard if we do not advocate for ourselves.”

We marched and rallied in solidarity for jobs, justice, peace and equality along with Americans of all races, faith and backgrounds.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

In giving her reasons for the importance of this March, Roksana Mun a DRUM Youth Organizer reflected on the theme of the March in 1963, which was “the need for jobs and the ever growing economic and social inequality between people of color communities and white communities”. And today she notes, “…we’re living at a time when the same exact issues of working-class, people of color are struggling to find jobs, decent pay (or in many cases any pay), increased cuts to education, health care and social service systems still persist. The Poor People’s March is still needed”

We showed that even though 50 years has passed since Dr. King’s speech calling for equality and justice we still have yet to pursue that dream.

As Fahd Ahmed, Legal and Policy Director of DRUM states, “It was important for DRUM to have a presence at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington because we have directly benefited from gains made by the Civil Rights movement. Both in terms of actual rights, won, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, but also in having learned strategies and tactics. Our current struggles for immigrant rights, racial justice, and worker’s rights, are a continuation of that legacy.”

Let us reflect and recommit as SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, notes “South Asians are indebted to the civil rights movement and the African American leaders and community members who marched today 50 years ago. The pivotal anti-discrimination and immigration laws that were enacted in 1965 have preserved the rights of millions of people of color and immigrants. Now, 50 years later, South Asians must continue to be a critical and visible constituency in the ongoing struggle for equity.”

So today, on the actual date of the March on Washington, as we commemorate Dr. King, his legacy and the struggles that were endured to defend our civil rights, let us not forget that problems still persists and that we are still in pursuit of the “Dream”.
**********

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

STOP AND FRISK, SOUTH ASIANS, AND KAL PENN’S TWEETS

Originally posted in Colorlines on August 16, 2013

Note from Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT and Rinku Sen, President, Applied Research Center:

When the Twitterversy around Kal Penn’s tweets about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy arose, we felt that it was important for South Asians to share our view of racial profiling and its impact. We wrote something and asked some people to sign on. That statement is below.

Simultaneously, we reached out to Kal Penn to express our disappointment and concern over his tweets. We started a conversation that resulted in his endorsing this statement. Penn has also agreed to engage in a process of dialogue, learning, engagement and action on racial profiling and stop and frisk policies with the institutions and communities working on this issue, including Colorlines and SAALT. You’ll find Penn’s own statement at the bottom of ours.
_________________________________________________________________________

This week, news of actor Kal Penn’s tweets apparently supporting the NYPD’s stop and frisk program has generated a debate about which we – South Asian activists, scholars, writers, artists and lawyers – have strong opinions. In his follow-up yesterday, Penn asks: “As people of color is this [stop and frisk program] effective? Does it have merit? How do we make our own communities of color safer?”

Our unequivocal answers to these questions are: no, no and not with stop and frisk.

Sikh Coalition

Stopping, interrogating, detaining or searching people based on characteristics such as their actual or perceived race, national origin, immigration status or religion is racial profiling. In a democracy, there has to be a reason to stop and search someone. Being a person of color isn’t a good enough reason.

Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it covers up the violent humiliation experienced by hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men annually. Beneath the numbers is the human impact of this sort of policing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dumping your belongings on the street while they taunt you with predictions that you’ll never amount to anything. It involves having this happen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and continuing into your adulthood. This sort of police enforcement not only hurts the individual, but also entire communities whose members are treated as “others” and automatically deemed unwelcome suspects in their own neighborhoods.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers, predominantly blacks and Latinos, have been stopped and interrogated on the street by police more than 4 million times since 2002, and nine out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent. Facts cited by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Floyd v. City of New York case,

which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, include that between 2004 and 2009, cops searched 2.28 million people for weapons, and that 2.25 million of them (98.5 percent) had none. Out of 4.4 million stops, only 6 percent led to an arrest, which means that cops were wrong 16 times more often than they were right.

These numbers confirm that there is absolutely no evidence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had started falling before stop and frisk was ever instituted, and cities and states across the country have also reduced crime rates without using such an unconstitutional and destructive practice.The negative racial impact and ineffectiveness of stop and frisk would be reason enough to oppose it. And, South Asian communities have an additional stake in this debate.

DRUM 10

Desis Rising Up and Moving

Especially since September 11th, South Asians are routinely targeted as would-be terrorists in many settings. Plenty of people say that South Asians, Sikhs and Muslims commit more terrorist acts to justify that profiling. South Asians have endured harassment at airports and at the border, interrogations and detentions by immigration authorities in the name of national security, and surveillance of Muslim Students Associations, mosques, and restaurants. In fact, the NYPD is facing lawsuits for their surveillance of Muslim communities.

A recent report by South Asian American organizations in New York City and nationally reveals the deep impact of racial and religious profiling on South Asian New Yorkers, many of whom are young, working class people who struggle with being singled out by authorities, including the NYPD.  Indeed, plenty of young South Asians themselves have been victims of stop and frisk policies – in both terrorism and non-terrorism related contexts – even in schools.

We urge South Asians to join the growing multiracial movement to bring stop and frisk practices, as well as other policies that criminalize and target communities of color, in New York City and across our country to a speedy end.

(Affiliations Provided for Identification Purposes Only)
Rinku Sen, President of the Applied Research Center, publisher of Colorlines
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Seema Agnani, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC
Chitra Aiyar, Board Member, Andolan – Organizing South Asian Workers
Chandra S. Bhatnagar, American Civil Liberties Union
Shahid Buttar, Executive Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Mallika Dutt, Executive Director, Breakthrough
Ami Gandhi, Executive Director, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI)
Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Rights Working Group
Aziz Huq
Chaumtoli Huq, Academic/Law@theMargins
Vijay Iyer, Musician
Anil Kalhan, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law
Aminta Kilawan J.D., Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union
Pramila Jayapal, Distinguished Taconic Fellow, Center for Community Change
Saru Jayaraman, Co Director, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
Subhash Kateel, Radio Show Host, Let’s Talk About It!
Farhana Khera
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director Forward Together
Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director, South Asian Network (SAN)
Rekha Malhotra (DJ Rekha)
Monami Maulik, Executive Director, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
Samhita Mukhopadhyay
Vijay Prashad, Author, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, and Karma of Brown Folk
Naheed Qureshi
Luna Ranjit, Executive Director, Adhikaar
Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder and Director of Programs, Sikh Coalition
Sivagami Subbaraman, Director, LGBTQ Resource Center, Georgetown University
Manar Waheed, Policy Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
*********

From Kal Penn: “I support the statement from South Asian community leaders on the impact of racial profiling. I have and still do oppose racial profiling in any form. I want to thank SAALT and Applied Research Center for reaching out and starting to educate & dialogue with me about these issues. I plan on being in regular contact with these great community leaders and allies around the issue of racial profiling, and to dialogue with and engage others about it. It’s important for all our communities to be educated, informed, and mobilized.”

Reflections on Oak Creek: The Power of Sangat In My Second Home

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Manpreet Teji

Manpreet Kaur Teji
Program Associate,
SAALT

On August 5, 2012, I woke up and got ready to go to Gurdwara, as I would on any other Sunday. I was attending a local service at the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Rockville, MD, when a member of the congregation announced that there was a shooting at a Gurdwara in Milwaukee. Immediately, everyone picked up their phones and started looking for news articles, reading posts on Facebook and twitter, and texting loved ones to make sure they were okay. After that moment, my mind went blank.  We all remained silent as the program ended after which everyone quietly ate their langar, a community meal, and spoke in panicked whispers. For the next few weeks, all I could think about was the shooting. I had always thought that the worst attack that could ever happen to our community would be an attack on a Gurdwara, our place of worship, and that had now happened.

I remember that Sunday so vividly. I was glued to the television and stayed close to my friends and family. I could not sleep that night, feeling restless and uneasy. My initial reaction was fearhow this could happen to a Gurdwara, a place of worshipa place I called my second home?  When I was younger, I dreaded going to Gurdwara on Sundays because I would have to sit through three hour long programs and attend Punjabi class.  As I grew older, I started to like going to Gurdwara because I would be able to meet my friends there and hang out, understand and learn more about my religion, and connect with my community. Nowadays whenever my family and I are traveling, my father will try to find a Gurdwara wherever we are. He always tells me, “Anywhere you go, you should get to know the Sikhs there.” His words inspired the connection I feel with my community and the love I have for Gurdwaras. I have always felt fortunate that I can be a part of the Sikh community no matter where I am. It is because of this bond—this closeness in our community—that the attack on Oak Creek was so painful. By taking the lives of six innocent people—mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters—one individual brought hate into a place that I love.

As I traveled to Oak Creek last weekend for the one-year anniversary of the day that hate was brought into the Oak Creek Gurdwara, the theme that surrounded this weekend was “Chardi Kala,” or relentless optimism during times of hardship.  I thought to myself, how can I be in Chardi Kala when a place I love was devastated and the families of lost loved ones are in infinite pain?  How can I embrace the concept of Chardi Kala, when this was the biggest attack during my lifetime on my community in a place of peace and love?  But once I got to Oak Creek, all of my questions were answered with the power of Sangat. In Sikhism, Sangat or communal prayer amongst fellow worshippers is large part of providing strength, community and peace to an individual.  The Sangat of Oak Creek showed such immense strength and courage, lifting up their spirits and looking towards the future- within seconds, their Chardi Kala spirit infected me.  I came to Oak Creek with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat, but that went away once I joined hands with the Oak Creek Sangat to remember Suveg Singh Khattra, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh.

As difficult as the past year has been, reflecting on the reality that my second home, a beloved Gurdwara, was attacked, I gained more strength from the community of Oak Creek than from anywhere else. I commend the Sangat of Oak Creek for standing tall during this terrible time of hardship. Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, nephew of one of the victims, Satwant Singh Kaleka, summed it up when he said, “I am proud to be a part of such a Sangat and I mean that in a global sense.  Waheguru (God) has blessed us with so much love from all over the world. The whole is only as good as its parts and there are many parts that work as one.” Over the past year, so many our parts have to work as one in renewing our Chardi Kala- from the Oak Creek community to the Sikh community broadly to the global community, the love and support has been tremendous. As the one-year anniversary of the Oak Creek shooting passes, I can confidently say that although the pain is still there and work needs to be done to ensure that such an attack never happens again, the strength and Chardi Kala of the Oak Creek community continues to pay tribute to Suveg Singh Khattra, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh and to elevate the collective spirit of Sikhs in America.
***********

Manpreet Kaur Teji
Program Associate
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Council passed two bills of the Community Safety Act, introduced last year, which curbs discriminatory policing practices and establishes accountability mechanisms for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro. 1080), would establish an enforceable ban against profiling and discrimination by the NYPD; expand the bases for prohibited profiling and discrimination (currently, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin) to include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status; establish a private right of action allowing profiling victims to file lawsuits against the NYPD; and allow individuals to file claims based on intentional discrimination and/or disparate impact. The second bill, the NYPD Oversight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant independent oversight authority over the NYPD to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation through reviews of the police department and require public reports regarding its findings. SAALT applauds the passage of the Community Safety Act as well as the efforts of local organizations in New York City, such as DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, to ensure these bills become law.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is vital for all residents of New York City – including African American and Latino individuals who have been subjected to an exorbitant and disproportionate percentage of stop-and-frisk encounters. Most notably, since September 11th, South Asian community members have been similarly subjected to arrests, questioning, and harassment simply based upon race, religion, and appearance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling, by DRUM, The Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, and SAALT, community members’ personal experiences revealed the toll that such discrimination has taken on their lives. Interactions with NYPD included that of a young Bangladeshi man, while simply waiting for his friends, being subjected to warrantless searches by police; a police officer asking a South Asian student about his religion; and an Indian Hindu individual being asked about his ethnicity and whether he had drugs. Community members have also been asked whether they are Muslim, where they pray, and even been pressured to spy on their own communities and report on “terrorist activity.” Indeed, reports from the Associated Press in 2011 revealed the widespread spying and surveillance by the NYPD on Muslim communities and student associations, both within and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City University of New York, recently filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory surveillance practices of the police department.) As a result, individuals reported that such interactions harmed their relationships with friends and family and, also, made them more hesitant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our partner organizations in New York City in calling for the enactment of robust and expansive anti-profiling policies and strengthening government and civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies in the city. We commend the City Council’s passage of the legislation, which would go into effect in January 2014, if enacted, and urge the Mayor to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.