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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTACT: Vivek Trive­di —