Arjum Singh Sethi
VIOLENCE against Arabs and Muslims continues unabated in America. Just this month, on Aug. 12, a young Arab American named Khalid Jabara was murdered outside his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The next day, an imam and his assistant, Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin, were murdered after praying at a mosque in Queens, New York.
In the Queens case, video footage and eyewitness accounts show suspect Oscar Morel approaching Akonjee and Uddin from behind and shooting them in the head. The suspect in the Tulsa crime has a long history of racism and discrimination and had previously called the Jabara family “filthy Lebanese” and “dirty Arabs.” Just last year, the suspect ran over Khalid’s mother, Haifa Jabara, in a violent hit and run. He took Khalid’s life after being released on bond.
Tulsa Police Capt. Shellie Seibert, speaking to The Washington Post last week, blamed the tragedy on a neighbourhood dispute and the suspect’s “unusual fixation” with the Jabara family. On Tuesday, however, after days of community pressure capped by more than 50 civil rights and faith-based groups asking authorities to stop minimising the possible role of hatred, the suspect was charged with murder and committing a hate crime.
The murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in February 2015 were also viewed in the context of neighbourhood friction. The three young Muslim Americans were murdered, two of them execution style, by a man who hated Islam and had previously intimidated the victims. Craig Hicks turned himself in and faces the death penalty on triple murder charges. Yet, because he had a longstanding parking dispute with the victims, he was not charged with hate crimes.
Why are prosecutors reluctant to file hate-crime charges? It’s because courts regularly require prosecutors to show that hate was the sole factor motivating the crime, not just a substantial motivating factor. Those who commit crimes with mixed motives are thus often not charged with hate crimes. This troubling logic can be applied in numerous ways. If a suspect vandalises a mosque because he disapproves of Islam, but also dislikes the traffic the mosque causes in his neighbourhood, it’s not a hate crime. If a suspect assaults a gay woman because of her sexual orientation, but also because he doesn’t like her mannerisms and attitude, it’s not a hate crime. Both Congress and individual states can remedy this failure by passing legislation or clarifying in guidelines that bias need only be a substantial motivating factor in proving a hate crime, not sole factor.
America needs strong hate crime laws because hate crimes are intended to intimidate and terrorize entire communities. Attacking a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. and a gay club in Orlando, Florida ripples through impacted communities nationwide. They can cause communities of people to feel vulnerable and isolated, spark national outrage and unrest, and create friction among racial, religious and ethnic groups.
It’s both restorative and cathartic for law enforcement to address hate and bias when it motivates crime. Think of it this way. Hate crimes send a message to vulnerable communities. Hate-crime charges send an even greater message to biased perpetrators. In addition, the FBI should require hate-crime reporting from law enforcement agencies across the country. Reporting now is voluntary and incomplete. The Associated Press recently found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments, roughly 17% of all city and county law enforcement agencies nationwide, have not submitted a single hate crime report during the past six years. If you don’t understand the severity of a problem, you can’t fix it; if you understate its severity, you’ll look other way. A requirement would increase awareness and ensure that we have necessary resources to protect America’s most vulnerable.
Hate has become a quotidian part of life for many minority communities, especially Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, and transgender Americans. We may never be able to eradicate bigotry and bias from our country, but we should at least try to curb violence motivated by it through effective laws, data collection and resource allocation. The writer, a Washington DC-based writer and lawyer, is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University and Vanderbilt University law schools. — Courtesy: USA Today