Dear Supporter Ji,
Last week, I had the privilege of taking my first work trip in more than a year to attend the bill signing for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in Washington, DC.
This legislation is an important first step to countering the threat of hate in America and the first significant piece of federal hate crimes legislation in 12 years. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in response to anti-Asian hate that has surged during the pandemic. Even better, it includes the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, which will modernize hate crime reporting and provide new resources for victims. The Sikh Coalition has been advocating for the passage of the NO HATE Act’s important provisions since it was introduced in 2019.
As I watched this step forward for civil rights happen, a few thoughts occurred to me that I wanted to share with you.
First is the difficult recognition that progress is too often born of tragedy. As I walked down the hallway towards the bill signing event, there was an exhibition on Asian Americans. Included in that exhibition was the dastaar that Balbir Singh Sodhi wore on September 15, 2001--the day he was brutally murdered because of hate. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act only came about with bipartisan support due to the surge of ugly xenophobia we’ve seen targeting Asian Americans across our country this past year; the NO HATE Act was named for two kind-hearted people, Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, who were murdered just one year apart in horrible, hate-fueled crimes. Even the Sikh Coalition itself only exists because of the backlash that our community faced after 9/11. As we look to our 20-year anniversary this September, we have a lot of work--and the resilience of our incredible community--to be proud of.
Second, as I walked down the iconic black and white checkered hallways towards the holding room, I remembered pictures I had taken of young Sikhs in those hallways--including some of our Junior Sikh Coalition members--who attended the numerous events that we’ve organized at the White House and in Congress to bring our community’s issues to the forefront. It takes time to make any kind of meaningful change. When the Sikh Coalition was founded 20 years ago, our very first volunteers had to walk the halls of Congress asking legislative staff for impromptu meetings. But after years of work by our staff and thousands of sevadaars like you, we have not just raised Sikh awareness--we’ve become a leading voice for civil rights, ensuring that the concerns of the sangat are heard at the highest levels of government. While we still have a ways to go on many issues, it is important to pause and recognize the tremendous progress we have collectively made.
And finally, as I watched the families of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer stand at the President’s request, I and others in the room who work with communities so drastically affected by hate noticeably choked up. We all remember the countless calls and meetings we have had with families who have lost loved ones or are forever changed by this kind of hate and violence, and it struck me how many of them will not get, but certainly deserve, this recognition. It was also a reminder of how many individuals and groups had to work together to get this legislation passed. There were the members of Congress who found common ground, of course, but also the diverse range of groups who made suggestions for and lobbied in favor of the legislation, including the Arab American Institute, the Leadership Conference, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Our work is done alongside allies of different faiths and backgrounds because so many of our communities share the same struggles for justice, equality, and even basic dignity.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a step forward, but it is far from the end. We’ll keep fighting for better state-level hate crime legislation in Wyoming, California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Massachusetts. We’ll keep pushing for mandatory federal reporting for hate crimes and other policy improvements. We’ll keep standing with other marginalized communities when they face bias, bigotry, and discrimination, just as we ask them to stand with us. And we’ll keep reaching back out to you and other sangat members across the country as we ask for your dasvandh and your seva to keep this essential work going.
Together, we will continue to forge our path forward and ensure the right for all people to practice their faith fearlessly.
The Sikh Coalition