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)
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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.
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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.