Hearing, Mapping, and Contextualizing: How South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, and South West Asian (SAMSSWA) Hate Violence Survivors Perceive Healing and Justice
Why a new approach to addressing hate violence?
Since our formation in 2001, SAALT has historically approached our work around ending hate violence as a policy- and documentation-driven institution, meaning that our efforts have been focused on collecting data on hate violence impacting our community and advocating for federal hate crime legislation to recognize and prosecute perpetrators of individual incidents. After two decades we face the reality that hate violence against communities of color has not decreased. And, that is because the root causes of this violence are tied to the very policies of the government from which we kept seeking recourse. As a result, we find it urgent and imperative to engage in a more direct, survivor-centered way that is not just short-term reform, but healing and transformative over the long-term.
We are living in a watershed moment, with great potential for both hope and harm. Hate violence has surged in America—from police brutality against Black Americans to the attacks targeting East Asian Americans and those racialized as East Asian. Fighting hate violence is vital—now more than ever—and the South Asian community must build coalitions with other communities of color.
Our new approach to hate violence, launched in 2022, is to enable the participation and leadership of hate violence survivors by thinking outside conventional paradigms of healing and justice, often tied to policy and law enforcement. Instead, we will offer transformative justice (TJ) as a modality of healing. We must be committed to honoring and uplifting the interrelated praxes of abolition and transformative justice in Black and Indigenous communities as well as the leadership of BIPOC folks, many of whom identify as LGBTQI+, in shaping abolition and transformative justice over the centuries, including those at Project NIA, INCITE!, Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, GenerationFIVE, Creative Interventions, Interrupting Criminalization, and Survived & Punished.
Such praxes and leadership arise from America’s very founding being premised upon—and defined by—hate violence. The creation and perpetuation of American systems and institutions were predicated both on the displacement and genocide of Indigenous people and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Such systemic violence rooted in hatred thus formed the basis and roots of carceral ideology, with racist xenophobia serving as the primary sentiment. Transformative justice, with roots in ending child sexual abuse, asks, as Mia Mingus writes: “What kinds of community infrastructure can we create to support more safety, transparency, sustainability, care and connection?” and “What do survivors need?” We aspire to discuss transformative justice with survivors and then go to the next level by actively visualizing a TJ-led community, with the virtual hangouts over food, workshops, interviews, and an in-person healing session serving as safe and powerful alternative outlets of healing, expression, and needs.
We will select 15 survivors affected by interpersonal and structural hate crimes—including but not limited to ones driven by racism, Islamophobia, casteism, colorism, gender, sexuality, immigration status, physical and mental ability, and a history of carcerality—both at the hands of unknown attackers (e.g., gendered Islamophobia, harassment and violence in public spaces, vandalism and property destruction, and doxing and other forms of digital violence) and at the hands of known attackers (e.g., gender-based and domestic violence, child abuse, and institutional discrimination in workplaces, health and education settings).
We are organizing discussions with our National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) partners and other South Asian organizations and individuals who directly work with survivors and learning from their work, asking them to collaborate on the project as workshop facilitators, and identifying survivors in their networks who would be eager and inspired to partake in this project. By connecting and engaging in a reciprocal relationship with these organizations, we hope to build with and unify the NCSO and our larger community—another one of our project goals, as exhibited by the workshop facilitators we will invite.
This project will have six moving parts from September 2022 to August/September/October 2023 in the following order:
(1) an initial pre-interview between the Healing & Justice Researcher and the survivors, 1:1, on forming relationships, likes and dislikes, etc., to establish a relationship filled with trust, mutual dignity, reciprocity, agency, and familiarity
(2) an online demographic questionnaire that will allow our researcher to create small groups during the in-person healing session based on answer and identity alignment and to disaggregate the data
(3) six virtual hangouts for the 15 survivors to bond over food, to preemptively set up the survivor network that will sustain this project. The last virtual hangout in August/September/October 2023 will serve as a reflection session on the project and its process.
(4) back-and-forth between 13 workshops and (5) 10 1:1 semi-structured interviews with our researcher. These workshops, which will also help build coalitions by including speakers from within and beyond the NCSO (e.g., Sikh Coalition, Jenny Bhatt, Survived & Punished), will provide the background information necessary to developing survivors’ informed perspectives on hate crime legislation, restorative and transformative justice, police reform, etc.
Two of these workshops—one, on what is healing and two, on what is justice—will be survivor-led.
Detailed, safe, and innovative interviews will help identify perspectives on the police, hate crime legislation, and alternatives to the police such as transformative and healing justice. They will explore access to healing pathways, such as positive and maladaptive coping skills, community support, mental and physical health services. Survivors will offer their perspectives on justice, such as police involvement in their cases, access to restitution structures such as restorative justice circles and victim-compensation funds, and definitions of fairness, safety, and accountability. They will express their thoughts and needs on related issues such as gun control, educational reform, food justice, and economic security.
(6) We will hold an in-person weekend session in July 2023 to maximize healing. Survivors will spend the first day engaging in activities offered by our Somatics Consultant; create something of their choice (e.g., a meal, song, dance, garden, clothing); and close the day with activities offered by our Healing Justice Consultant. The second day, survivors will engage in activities offered by our Somatics Consultant and a storytelling circle facilitated by our Restorative Justice Facilitator as well as map out a future world (What does it consist of? What makes it safe, fair, and just?) with the help of our Transformative Justice Facilitator.
We will harness the power of speaking and listening. Greater information, freer participation and informed analysis, particularly in relation to anti-Black racism in the US, will help us develop a shared language for change together with our NCSO and beyond. We will present our findings from the surveys and interviews, and make recommendations for community-based advocacy organizations, mental health and legal professionals, TJ practitioners, and government officials through a public, interactive website with multiple purposes—a toolkit, memoir, report, document, and historiography.
We will also be offering the following services and compensations: (1) an information and informed consent form emphasizing consent (i.e., voluntary and selective participation), confidentiality, anonymity, and full veto power over written content; (2) $2,500 compensation to each survivor as an expression of our gratitude for their time, commitment, and fullest selves; (3) individual and group coaching sessions with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist; (4) localized resource sheets (e.g., contacts to faith-based leaders); (5) somatic and healing justice activities; (6) translation and interpretation support; (7) a reflection circle and survey on the process at the last virtual hangout; and (8) a survivor-led network outliving and outlasting the project.
This project has numerous implications. Following the scholarly interest in and debate over the efficacy of Brazil and India’s all-women police stations in addressing gender-based violence and listening to survivors, our insights might well be extrapolated to the criminal justice systems of other nations and inspire global models.
Hate violence takes too many lives every day. We recognize the urgency of a response, and this project, with its democratic ways of storytelling centered on a just transition, or “a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy”—is our contribution.
This project will contribute to the transformation of justice for individuals and communities. It will expand the notion of justice from simply one survivor going to the government for help, to one where an entire society is deeply aware of structural violence and injustice, and open to forming new and more equitable methodologies and institutions.
This multilayered project will involve a reciprocal relationship with participants, in which we will uncover our deepest, truest selves. We will share our stories—the way in which we are storied, unstoried and restoried. We will dream of radically new worlds. And through this individual and collective work, we will develop a roadmap for radical healing and justice.
On the night of Tuesday, 16 March, a 21-year-old white man attacked three spas in the metro Atlanta area, shooting and killing eight people. Six of the eight victims were Korean American women. This attack is the worst possible outcome of the rise in coronavirus-driven anti-Asian hatred – another mass shooting rooted in white supremacy and goaded by politicians’ xenophobic rhetoric.
The incident is a horrific peak in the bigotry we’ve all witnessed over the past year: once again, marginalized working-class immigrants are targeted at a time of global crisis; once again, we witness our nation’s inability to recognize the dominance of gendered white supremacist violence and racism in all of its structures; once again, our healing is disrupted.
Still, local police are not categorizing this mass shooting as a hate crime, nor recognizing the significant role of both race and gender in the shaping of this tragedy. But we must be clear: seven of the eight victims were women; six of the eight victims were Asian American. It is clear the shooter (who has cited “sexual deviance” as his motivation for murder) also had some bias in his targeting, whether explicit or implicit. This, in turn, demands that we – as Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, as Americans of color, as Americans generally – question how embedded anti-Asian rhetoric is in American culture and how American culture benefits from patriarchal white supremacy and erasure. And more specifically, these intersections point to the clear history of dangerous sexualization of Asian women in the U.S. Last night’s shooting can only be understood and approached as an act of race‑, class‑, and gender-based sexual violence.
Considering these complexities, it is our responsibility as members and allies of the broader APIA community to push for an intersectional analysis that understands the racism facing Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, as well as the violent and sexualized misogyny aimed at our East Asian and Southeast Asian sisters. Our role in this moment is to both remember the pain of our past community experiences with mass violence, and honor and move towards the point of healing and reparation.
Yesterday, white supremacy was on full display at the US Capitol and at government buildings across the nation. These attacks represent a blatant and illegal attempt to deter democracy and promote white supremacist beliefs — which harm everyone. All of us have a duty to respond, not only with condemnation, but with sustained action against the instigators and their supporters.
Though Congress has certified the results of the presidential election, they must do more. They must call for the removal of President Trump and begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Republican leadership must ensure there is a peaceful transition of power on and past Inauguration Day, and all members of Congress who incited, encouraged, or participated in this attack must be expelled for breaking their Oaths of Office. Those responsible for yesterday’s attacks must be held equally accountable under the law.
We must also be careful about how to characterize yesterday’s events. SAALT’s work on national security and immigration issues since 9/11 has made it clear that labeling acts of extremist violence as terrorism is dangerous and paves the way for the targeting of Black and Brown communities, as seen through the War on Terror framework. We can and must stand vigilant against yesterday’s attacks without resorting to such characterizations by demanding that what happened yesterday is characterized as white supremacist violence. SAALT stands with our Black allies, who are rightfully pointing out the double standards in how the white supremacists behind yesterday’s events are being treated, as compared to the peaceful protesters during last summer’s uprisings.
“For our own communities, who were retraumatized by yesterday’s events, we are with you. The past four years have been a relentless surge of policies and attacks against the bodies and rights of so many communities, ours included. SAALT will continue to press for the reversal of these xenophobic and racist policies from the Trump era and push for bold solutions that will improve the lives of everyone.”
Simran Noor, SAALT Board Chair
As South Asians, we also have work to do within our communities. There are reports of Indian Americans being present at and encouraging yesterday’s attempted coup. Given what we witnessed from the 2020 Howdy Modi event in Texas featuring Trump and Modi, this is no surprise. We have work to do within our own communities to raise awareness about the links between Hindu nationalism and white supremacy, and the dangers of allying with the elements who orchestrated yesterday’s events. Simply put: We cannot condemn one fascist and excuse another. SAALT calls on its entire community to hold these truths and stand united against nationalism, fascism, and imperialism on all its fronts.
SAALT will continue to share news and coverage of the violence, as well as help connect those affected by the chaos with local resources. Please reach out to email@example.com with any questions or requests.
19 years ago today, 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001. Our government’s response known as the “War on Terror,” has cost more than 500,000 lives worldwide. This number does not even include the lives lost to interpersonal hate violence ignited by this state violence.
Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh business owner, was planting flowers outside of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona when he was shot and killed. We later learned that his shooter had reportedly told a waitress at Applebees “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel heads,” and “We should kill their children, too, because they’ll grow up to be like their parents.”
In the midst of this current public health tragedy that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities and has led to the death of nearly 200,000 people in the U.S., we’ve simultaneously seen a dramatic rise in COVID-related hate violence attacks targeting Asian Americans. In SAALT’s forthcoming COVID-19 report, we mark the different forms of hate violence, once again ignited by our government since the pandemic, which you can preview here.
This current crisis, like all crises, has reinforced that we don’t all experience moments of crisis equally. Depending on class, immigration status, caste, religious or ethnic background, South Asians are targeted at different scales and magnitudes. At SAALT we’re dedicated to acknowledging these disparate experiences, but also what unites us across communities. Earlier this month in Irving, Texas, a South Asian family received hate mail saying if Indian and Chinese immigrants don’t stop taking American jobs, “we will have no choice but to shoot mercilessly immigrants of Chinese and Indian descent…” White supremacists don’t necessarily distinguish within our communities with the same efficiency as our government, which is why building collective power is so critical.
On this anniversary, we honor all the lives destroyed by hate violence and state violence, and ask you to join us in fighting racism and white supremacy in all its manifestations.
Earlier this year, SAALT released our post-election analysis of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric called “Communities on Fire.” During the first year following the 2016 presidential election (November 7, 2016 to November 7, 2017)—we documented 302 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at our communities, an over 45% increase from our previous analysis in just one year. An astounding eighty-two percent of incidents were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. Additionally, One out of every five perpetrators of hate violence incidents referenced President Trump, a Trump administration policy (“Muslim Ban”), or Trump campaign slogn (“Make America Great Again”) while committing the attack.
Since November 7, 2017, which marked one year since the presidential election, SAALT has documented 40 additional incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric. Three of the eight instances of xenophobic political rhetoric were anti-Muslim videos retweeted by President Trump in a single day.
Fourteen of the thirty-two incidents of hate violence were verbal/written assaults, followed by twelve incidents of property damage, and six physical assaults. The cumulative post-election total is shown in Figure 1 below compared to the year leading up to the presidential election.
On December 1, 2017, Bernardino Bolatete was arrested for planning to “shoot up” the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida. He told an undercover detective, “I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know? They are the ones who are always doing these shootings, the killings.” Following this event, four more mosques were vandalized around the country. Mosques in Upper Darby, PA; Clovis, NM, and Queens, NY were vandalized with “Trump”, “Terr-” “911” and other anti-muslim phrases.
In tune with the disturbing trend of Mosque vandalism, Tahnee Gonzales and Elizabeth Dauenhauer trespassed the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, Arizona. While on Facebook lives, the women stole the masjid’s educational material and called Muslims “devil-worshippers” who are destroying “America.” The women also encouraged their children to participate in anti-Muslim behavior.
Continued Targeting of Sikh Americans
Twenty-two percent of hate incidents we documented in “Communites on Fire” targeted men who identify or are perceived as South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, or Arab. Perpetrators of hate crimes often use the religious presentation of turban-wearing Sikh men to target them. Our report found over seven incidents of hate violence aimed directly against Sikhs Americans, which reflected a significant disconnect between SAALT’s community-reported and publicly-sourced data and data reported to the FBI.
In January 2018, at least three incidents of hate violence targeted Sikh men. In Bellevue, Washington, an unknown perpetrator took a hammer from his bag and swung it against the head of Swarn Singh, causing his head to bleed. At the AM/PM convenience store in Federal Way, Washington, a man threatened to kill a Sikh employee and told him to “go back where you came from.” Later in the month, a Sikh Uber driver, Gurjeet Singh, picked up a couple in Moline, Illinois. The male suspect put a gun to Singh’s head saying that he hated “turban people.”
Additionally, on March 3, 2018 Chad Horsely plowed his pickup truck into Best Stop Convenience Store because he thought the store owners were Muslim; they were Sikh Americans. On February 20, 2018, a Sikh gas station owner was called a “terrorist” and told that he should “go back to his own country.” When the victim tried to take photos of the vehicle license plate, Steven Laverty exited the vehicle and tried to punch the victim and took his phone. On February 1, 2018, Pit Stop Gas Station in Kentucky, owned by a Sikh American, was found vandalized with swastikas, “white power,” “leave,” and “f**k you,” spray-painted on its exterior.
While we recognize that many instances of hate violence or xenophobic rhetoric against our communities go unreported, we at SAALT remain committed in refusing to normalize hate. Download our report “Communites on Fire”, to read more about our recommendations on how to combat hate violence and address the underlying systems and structures that produce this violence.
Over the past week, six new incidents of hate violence occurred against South Asian, Muslim, and Middle Eastern communities marking the end of the first year of the Trump administration. The latest numbers in hate show over the past 12 months, there have been a total of 205 unique incidents of hate; a 58% increase from the previous year.
There is a persistent increase in all categories of hate violence as shown in Figure 2. Verbal and written threats are by far the most common category of hate incidents with 83 occurring over the past year. Five of the six recent hate incidents involved written hate rhetoric or threats against mosques and local politicians.
As of November 1, 2017, there have been 199 documented incidents of hate violence against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern. Most notably, hate violence this year has increased by 53% compared to the previous year.
Consistent with the numbers from last week, women who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern continue to be the most common target of hate making up 29% of hate violence in the SAALT database. Hate incidents against men, youth, and Muslim places of worship come in second with comparable percentages. Nineteen percent of hate violence is against youth, a slight increase from the previous week. On October 25th, Christopher Beckham harassed two Muslim girls wearing hijabs coming off of a school bus and threatened their father with a knife. He told them to “go back to their country” and that he would kill them when he got out of prison.
This week’s report on hate violence against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern highlights two notable shifts in trends. For the first time, physical assaults post-election have surpassed pre-election numbers. Additionally, there has been an increase in hate incidents in the Midwest region of the U.S., with percentages close to the Western and Eastern regional percentages.
As we approach the close of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the total number of hate incidents have increased to 191 resulting in a 46% increase from pre-election year to post-election year (see Figure 1).
Of the 191 reported hate incidents, 65 incidents are physical assaults, 77 incidents are verbal or written threats, and 50 incidents involve property damage (see Figure 2). The most dramatic increase in hate incidents has involved verbal and written assaults over the past year. Recently, a Delaware man, Gerard Medvec, is facing hate crime charges for spying on and threatening his neighbors who he thought were Muslim. Post-election totals on physical assaults have also surpassed the totals from pre-election year. Physical assaults include acts such as shoving, punching, pulling, and spitting by the perpetrators. On October 7th, a 43-year old white man walked into a convenience store in Seattle, WA, and pepper sprayed two men and one woman wearing hijab. This attack was preceded by an anti-Muslim rant in the store. Finally, property damage often consisting of vandalism comprises the third category of hate incidents. Mosques are the most common target of hate incidents involving property damage. For example, figure 3 demonstrates that 21% of hate incidents involve damage or vandalism of mosques and Muslim community centers. This past week, Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, which was bombed in August, was broken into and burglarized.
The most common victims of hate incidents are often women. Twenty-nine percent of the 191 documented hate incidents are against women who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or Arab (see Figure 3). A majority of these hate incidents involve women wearing hijabs. Hate violence towards women underscores the role of intersectionality and the need for identifying these intersections in documenting hate.
The combination of gender, religious attire, skin color, accent, and other factors all play a part in how women are perceived and targeted in daily life. For men, as well, intersections of multiple factors contribute to how they are perceived and treated by others. Twenty-two percent of hate incidents are against men who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or Arab. Youth are also vulnerable to hate incidents due to the intersections of race, name, skin color, gender, and religion with young age. Eighteen percent of hate incidents involved students and youth (Youth numbers overlap with percentages of hate incidents against women and men). Incidents not only occur on the streets from strangers but also in institutional settings where others bully and haze them.
A recent incident stands out in highlighting the violence that youth who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or Arab face regularly, and the mental health crisis that can result from that trauma. Raheel Siddiqui, a young Muslim enlisted in the U.S. Marines, committed suicide during training this past March. According to his parents, his drill instructor incessantly hazed him for being Muslim. The instructor reportedly called him a terrorist and forced him to run laps until he collapsed. Superiors denied Raheel Siddiqui medical assistance and did not take seriously his threats to commit suicide. With increasing hate violence, community groups will need to hold institutional spaces such as schools, the military, and afterschool programs accountable in creating safe space for all youth.
Lastly, the rise in the number of hate incidents is regionally relevant (see Figure 4). The West Coast and East Coast continue to lead in hate incidents with slightly over half of incidents occurring in those regions of the U.S. Their lead, however, has shrunk over the weeks as the occurrence of hate incidents increased in the Midwest. Currently, 25% of hate incidents have occurred in places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Southern regions of the U.S. have the lowest number of incidents making up 18% of the total.
At the 11 month mark since the election of Donald Trump, there have been 184 documented incidents of hate violence against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern compared to the total of 130 from the year before the election. The rise in hate violence this year is a 42% increase from the pre-election year. Further, SAALT finds that new incidents occur at the rate of four to five a week. For example, since the last SAALT hate violence report on October 3, 2017, there have been five new reported hate incidents.
Figure 2 organizes incidents of hate violence into descriptive categories and compares totals pre and post-election. The three categories of hate violence are incidents of physical violence, incidents of verbal/written threats, and incidents of property damage. Verbal and written threats and hateful rhetoric are the most common type of violence against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern. Since November 8, 2016, there have been 73 documented verbal and written hate incidents. While there has been a dramatic increase in hate rhetoric over the past 11 months compared to the prior year, many verbal and written incidents go unreported. Actual physical attack due to hate and bias is the second most common type of hate violence against communities represented by SAALT. There have been 63 physical assaults in the last 11 months. This total is on par with the total from the pre-election year. Finally, property damage often consisting of vandalism comprises the third category of hate incidents with 48 unique incidents occurring since November 8, 2016.