SAALT Mourns Death of Muslim Teenager, Calls on Police to Investigate Possible Hate Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national South Asian racial justice and civil rights organization, mourns the death of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Reston, Virginia resident who was killed as she left her All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque on Sunday morning. Though police swiftly arrested and charged a local man with the killing, on Monday Fairfax County Police stated on Twitter, “We are NOT investigating this murder as a hate crime.” This early and impulsive decision to rule out racial or religious bias as a possible factor in this killing sends the wrong message to South Asian and Muslim communities across the country who continue to face violence and intimidation every day. SAALT calls on law enforcement to vigorously investigate all possible motives that led to this tragic loss of life.

“Given the pandemic of hate violence aimed at Muslim and South Asian communities in the United States, it is nothing less than tone deaf for the police to categorically dismiss hate as a possible factor in the tragic killing of a young Muslim girl who was attacked while walking out of her mosque during Ramadan,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “The police have a sworn duty to protect and serve everyone, including Muslim and South Asian communities. A complete investigation into the facts is the only way to achieve justice for Nabra.”

SAALT has documented over 100 incidents of hate targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans in 2017 alone. Shootings in Kansas and Washington State, along with vandalism and arson attacks of mosques, homes, and businesses across the country are only a few of the tragic incidents our communities have experienced this year.

Nabra’s killing is not the first incident that leads our communities, and communities of color writ large, to distrust law enforcement. In recent years the police have repeatedly brutalized our communities with impunity. In 2015 Sureshbhai Patel, a senior citizen with limited English proficiency, was partially paralyzed after being slammed to the ground by an Alabama police officer. During a traffic stop in 2016, Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer while the entire incident was live-streamed by Castile’s girlfriend. Despite video evidence in both cases, the accused officers were acquitted of all charges.

On the other hand, the police are equally quick to the trigger when dismissing hate as a possible motivating factor in violence aimed at our communities. Our communities have experienced far greater hate violence than has been documented due to severe underreporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement. In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggested the actual number of anti-Muslim hate crimes was likely 6,000 or more than what was registered, despite the FBI only reporting 154 hate crime incidents.

The federal government has also been wholly inadequate in protecting our communities. A May 2, 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Responses to the Increase in Religious Hate Crimes” did not include a single Muslim or Arab organization or expert witness to provide testimony, despite dramatic spikes in anti-Muslim hate violence across the country that are nearing levels not seen since the year after 9/11. This erasure of reality and unwillingness to understand the problem on the part of our government is completely unacceptable.

Nabra’s tragic death rattles our already embattled communities, and should shake the entire nation. Parents should not fear for their child’s safety because they wear a hijab or attend a mosque. Every young person should be guaranteed a life free of hate. This is the promise our country continues to break every day. We as a nation must collectively pledge, early and often, with words and actions, that we are NOT going to compromise the principles of religious freedom out of fear or hate, and that we will protect the rights of all Americans always.

CONTACT: Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org