Values, Goals of Freedom Riders Still Apply Today

Over the past two years, I have steeped myself in under­stand­ing the civ­il rights con­text for South Asian, Sikh, Mus­lim and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties as a Pro­gram Asso­ciate at SAALT.  My recent expe­ri­ence to join the orig­i­nal Free­dom Rid­ers from Free­dom Sum­mer on a bus ride from DC to Rich­mond helped me to real­ize how con­nect­ed peo­ple of col­or are in terms of their expe­ri­ences, hopes and dreams for the future.

On July 2, 2014, I received an oppor­tu­ni­ty to freedomridepar­tic­i­pate in the 50th Anniver­sary com­mem­o­rat­ing the sign­ing of the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act with the office of Civ­il Rights at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. The 1964 Civ­il Rights Act out­lawed dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, col­or, reli­gion, sex, or nation­al ori­gin. It end­ed racial seg­re­ga­tion in schools, at the work­place and by facil­i­ties that served the gen­er­al pub­lic as well as pro­mot­ing equal­i­ty in vot­ing. I joined 48 oth­er stu­dent lead­ers across the coun­try, along with many orig­i­nal Free­dom Rid­ers from Free­dom Sum­mer to the Vir­ginia State Capi­tol in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia. The Free­dom Rides brought togeth­er civ­il rights activists who rode inter­state bus­es from DC into the seg­re­gat­ed South in 1961 to chal­lenge the non-enforce­ment of the U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions that ruled that seg­re­gat­ed pub­lic bus­es were uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. Dur­ing the jour­ney from DC to Rich­mond last week, I explored his­to­ry first­hand from lead­ers who paved the way for all of us.

This expe­ri­ence allowed me to reflect on the dif­fer­ence the Free­dom Rid­ers made for Mus­lim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties as these com­mu­ni­ties are part of this long civ­il rights his­to­ry. They were the same age as I when they left their homes and Uni­ver­si­ties and signed wills before embark­ing on a jour­ney know­ing they were risk­ing their lives. As a Sikh Amer­i­can, the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act is of tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance as it addressed reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Pri­or to 1964, employ­ers could dis­crim­i­nate based on the applicant’s reli­gion and for Sikhs, tur­bans or long beards rep­re­sent arti­cles of faith.  While today the law stands that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion is in vio­la­tion of the Civ­il Rights Act, the back­lash our com­mu­ni­ties face are still preva­lent includ­ing at work­places and schools. The Free­dom Rid­ers expressed that at the time that there was a sense of urgency for the cli­mate to be changed. I think today the cli­mate is thirsty for change again as Amer­i­ca is becom­ing more diverse and there is a need for a soci­ety that respects peo­ple of var­i­ous back­grounds and faiths.

The morn­ing send-off was held at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion where Free­dom Rid­er Hank Thomas spoke about his expe­ri­ence join­ing the move­ment. He reflect­ed on his time serv­ing in Viet­nam and know­ing that even if he came back with a Medal of Hon­or, he would not be able to sit in the front of the bus. Hank spoke on behalf of African Amer­i­can sol­diers back then as he explained that, “We loved a coun­try that did not love us.” Lis­ten­ing to his words, I found myself already strate­giz­ing with oth­er stu­dent lead­ers on how to con­tin­ue this fight that these lead­ers fought before us as how we could orga­nize to make sure injus­tices were pre­vent­ed for the future gen­er­a­tion.

Dur­ing the ride on the way to Rich­mond, I was seat­ed next to Free­dom Rid­er Rev. Regi­nald Green. When he was a stu­dent at Vir­ginia Union Uni­ver­si­ty, Rev. Green heard about the Free­dom Rides and decid­ed to join.  He did not tell his par­ents and was arrest­ed and jailed in Mis­sis­sip­pi. Rev. Green reflect­ed on his rea­sons for join­ing the Free­dom Rides and not­ed that it was time for the cli­mate of our nation to change. Many of the Free­dom Rid­ers were in col­lege and paused their own edu­ca­tion to take part in activ­i­ties that would ensure equal edu­ca­tion for every­one one day. We arrived at the Vir­ginia State Capi­tol where the Free­dom Rid­ers were wel­comed by Gov­er­nor Ter­ry McAu­li­ffe. He reflect­ed on the great strides the Free­dom Rid­ers made and how, “They stood up when oth­ers failed to do so.” The Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Civ­il Rights at the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, Cather­ine Lha­mon, dis­cussed the mod­ern day cas­es her office faces and how she believes, “No stu­dent should have to choose between get­ting an edu­ca­tion and being treat­ed with dig­ni­ty.” The real­i­ty is that bias based bul­ly­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion still hap­pens in the class­rooms whether it’s race, reli­gion, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or nation­al ori­gin. After 9/11, inci­dents of bias based bul­ly­ing height­ened for the South Asian com­mu­ni­ties and racial and reli­gious pro­fil­ing as a whole increased towards the com­mu­ni­ty. While we com­mem­o­rate the work that has already been done for by the Depart­ment of the Edu­ca­tion to make sure our schools are safe, we need to make sure our class­rooms allow for stu­dents to attend safe­ly and with dig­ni­ty.

Through­out this expe­ri­ence, it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the hard­ships the Free­dom Rid­ers went through to fight for civ­il rights. Their tires were popped and the win­dows were bro­ken but they con­tin­ued to ride. They did not want to sit at the back of the bus, go to only a few restau­rants, use sep­a­rate bath­rooms or not be able to vote. The progress that they made to move away from racial seg­re­ga­tion is remark­able. They inspired me along with 48 oth­er stu­dents to join the move­ment and make sure that dur­ing the next 50 years, we are active­ly engaged in the strug­gle for racial jus­tice.
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Manpreet Teji
For­mer SAALT Staff Mem­ber
Law Stu­dent, John Mar­shall Law School

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!
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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.

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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

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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”.
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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.
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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.”

Supreme Court Watch: Fisher v. UT Austin and the South Asian Community

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its rul­ing in the case of Abi­gail Noel Fish­er v. Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin, involv­ing the university’s use of race in its admis­sions pol­i­cy. Here at SAALT, we eager­ly await­ed the Supreme Court’s rul­ing, as we had joined an ami­cus brief filed by the Asian Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Advanc­ing Jus­tice in the Fish­er case last year in sup­port of the UT-Austin admis­sions pol­i­cy.

In its deci­sion, the Court upheld the broad­er prin­ci­ples from exist­ing prece­dent from Grut­ter v. Bollinger, which allowed for race to be used as one of var­i­ous fac­tors giv­en the com­pelling state inter­est in pro­mot­ing diver­si­ty with­in edu­ca­tion. How­ev­er, rather than rul­ing on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas’ pol­i­cy itself, the Court returned the case to the 5th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court asked the low­er court to review whether the con­sid­er­a­tion of race in the admis­sions pol­i­cy in ques­tion was nar­row­ly tai­lored and nec­es­sary in order to achieve edu­ca­tion­al diver­si­ty.

Despite com­mon mis­per­cep­tions to the con­trary, South Asians sup­port and ben­e­fit from holis­tic race-con­scious admis­sion poli­cies like the one imple­ment­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas. South Asian stu­dents, along with all oth­er stu­dents, enjoy a rich­er learn­ing envi­ron­ment when they are immersed in a diverse edu­ca­tion­al set­ting.  The abil­i­ty to learn from stu­dents and peers var­i­ous back­grounds helps bet­ter pre­pare them for the work­force and the real world. In fact, in light of ongo­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion that South Asians encounter in this coun­try, it is vital that stu­dents from oth­er racial back­grounds learn about our expe­ri­ences and we, in turn, learn about theirs. It is also impor­tant for us to remem­ber that it was not too long ago in our own recent his­to­ry that our com­mu­ni­ty has been denied equal oppor­tu­ni­ty in this coun­try and race-con­scious admis­sions poli­cies bring us clos­er to equal­i­ty. In fact, Asian Amer­i­cans, includ­ing South Asians, strong­ly sup­port affir­ma­tive action and race-con­scious poli­cies in edu­ca­tion­al set­tings, as shown by recent polling from the Nation­al Asian Amer­i­can Sur­vey.

We are heart­ened by the Supreme Court’s deci­sion to uphold prece­dent regard­ing holis­tic race-con­scious poli­cies and are con­fi­dent that the low­er court will uphold the pol­i­cy upon its review of the case.

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

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.

 

Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shel­by Coun­ty, Alaba­ma v. Hold­er, the Supreme Court inval­i­dat­ed Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights of 1965 rul­ing it uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. SAALT strong­ly con­demns the Supreme Court’s deci­sion to inval­i­date Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights Act which has been piv­otal in pro­tect­ing minor­i­ty vot­ers’ abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. In Jan­u­ary 2013, SAALT joined an ami­cus brief in the case, along with 27 oth­er Asian Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions, argu­ing in favor of the Vot­ing Rights Act, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en its impor­tance relat­ed to lan­guage access and polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

With the back­drop of egre­gious racial dis­crim­i­na­tion against minor­i­ty vot­ers, Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights Act artic­u­lates a for­mu­la to deter­mine which juris­dic­tions are required to have any changes in their vot­ing laws pre-cleared by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice or a fed­er­al court (under Sec­tion 5 of the leg­is­la­tion) to ensure that minor­i­ty vot­ers’ abil­i­ty to vote is not dimin­ished. The trig­ger for­mu­la used to des­ig­nate such juris­dic­tions, as out­lined in Sec­tion 4, is based on var­i­ous fac­tors, includ­ing his­tor­i­cal evi­dence of racial­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry vot­ing prac­tices, impact on lan­guage minor­i­ty groups, and low minor­i­ty vot­er turnout. While the Court rec­og­nized that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion con­tin­ues to plague the abil­i­ty for many to vote, it stat­ed that the cov­er­age for­mu­la used in Sec­tion 4 was “out­dat­ed” in light of recent increased minor­i­ty vot­er turnout, dis­ap­proved of states being treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly under the law, and sug­gest­ed that Con­gress update the for­mu­la in order to pass con­sti­tu­tion­al muster. This coun­ter­in­tu­itive rea­son­ing ignores that Sec­tions 4 and 5 have been piv­otal in pro­mot­ing enfran­chise­ment, con­sid­er­able evi­dence proves racial dis­crim­i­na­tion at the polls con­tin­ues, and fed­er­al leg­is­la­tors have rec­og­nized the impor­tance of keep­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Vot­ing Rights Act, includ­ing Sec­tion 4, has increas­ing­ly enjoyed sig­nif­i­cant bipar­ti­san sup­port with­in Con­gress over the years and was most recent­ly reau­tho­rized almost unan­i­mous­ly in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought bat­tle for com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in the Unit­ed States. The Vot­ing Rights Act is an his­toric and cru­cial piece of leg­is­la­tion that was borne out of our country’s Civ­il Rights Move­ment and the pio­neer­ing strug­gles of the African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain nat­u­ral­iza­tion, con­fer­ring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not con­sid­ered white by the com­mon per­son and thus could not be con­sid­ered cit­i­zens; this remained in effect until leg­is­la­tion was enact­ed decades lat­er. In more recent years, as doc­u­ment­ed by elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing and exit polling efforts, South Asian and oth­er vot­ers of col­or con­tin­ue to encounter bar­ri­ers at the polls because of race, reli­gion, and lan­guage abil­i­ty and restric­tive vot­er iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­pos­als con­tin­ue to threat­en the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s dis­ap­point­ing rul­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en our community’s over­all size and growth in juris­dic­tions pre­vi­ous­ly cov­ered under the Sec­tion 4 for­mu­la, includ­ing Ari­zona, Geor­gia, Texas, and Vir­ginia.

This rul­ing is a grave set­back for vot­ing rights and equal­i­ty in the coun­try that ignores both the his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary evi­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tion that minor­i­ty vot­ers face. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are encour­aged to join a peti­tion call­ing for an amend­ment to pro­tect the rights of all vot­ers. Look­ing for­ward, SAALT will con­tin­ue to work with allies when Con­gress devel­ops a new cov­er­age for­mu­la in light of today’s rul­ing and ensure that it address­es dis­crim­i­na­tion against racial, eth­nic, and lan­guage minori­ties.

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