Columns

Sessions Vows Intolerance for Hate Crimes as Asian Rights Group Boycotts DOJ Summit

AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi (Al-Malahem Media)

WASHINGTON — An Asian-American rights group boycotted the Justice Department’s summit on hate crimes today, arguing that their presence at the administration event just hours before parts of President Trump’s travel ban were set to go into effect would amount to nothing but a photo op.

“The Trump administration and the Department of Justice are committed to reducing violent crime and making America safe,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the summit. “As you know, hate crimes are violent crimes. No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.”

“So I pledge to you: As long as I am attorney general, the Department of Justice will continue to protect the civil rights of all Americans — and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in our country.”

Sessions established a Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety in February, including a subcommittee on hate crimes “to explore ways to expand and improve training for federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators on hate crimes; how we can work better with affected communities and our state and local law enforcement partners; and how we can improve our data collection on hate crimes.”

Giving several examples of DOJ action on hate crimes including prosecuting arsonists who attacked or were planning to burn down mosques, the attorney general said he met with the Civil Rights Division “to discuss a spate of murders around the country of transgender individuals” and has directed a multi-agency review into how the DOJ “can support the state and local law enforcement authorities investigating these incidents” and “determine whether federal action would be appropriate.”

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said they learned 36 hours before the summit that Sessions would deliver opening remarks but not take any questions, and declined to participate.

“Given that this serves as a photo opportunity, we are not convinced the Summit will be a forum for substantive dialogue. Combating hate violence is central to SAALT’s mission, and we have been deeply committed to developing solutions that stem the tide of violence targeting South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern Americans since our inception,” the group said in a statement.

They further took issue with Sessions’ crime reduction task force, calling it a vehicle to go after undocumented immigrants.

“Among their many transgressions, this Department of Justice has deeply undermined the trust that is foundational for communities to feel comfortable reporting hate crimes to law enforcement. From issuing and repeatedly appealing an unconstitutional Muslim Ban to publically supporting Texas’ draconian state immigration enforcement law, SB 4, to rolling back police accountability measures, this Administration has broadcast a very clear message to all of our communities. Given this reality, we believe that the Attorney General’s remarks and the subsequent discussion today will only amount to window dressing,” SAALT added.

“South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Americans are experiencing levels of hate violence not seen since the year after 9/11. In the seven months since the 2016 presidential election SAALT has documented 104 incidents of violence against our communities. We believe discriminatory government policies, executive orders, and litigation have actively contributed to the very rise in hate violence that the Department of Justice will attempt to discuss today.”

The travel ban, which now requires visitors from six Muslim-majority countries to have family, educational or employment ties to enter the country pending October arguments before the Supreme Court, is set to take effect at 8 p.m. EST.

Among the hate crimes summit participants was the Sikh Coalition, which last week shared a series of Snapchat images posted by a teen calling a Sikh man aboard his airplane a terrorist. The Eastern Hancock County Community School Corp. then called out the student’s actions as “offensive, racially insensitive,” and a Facebook post said the district was “seeking legal advice for avenues to address the student’s unacceptable behavior in accordance with national and state law, and local policy.”‘

“Last Thursday, our colleague Simran Jeet Singh tweeted a series of bigoted Snapchat images he saw that implied a Sikh airplane passenger was a terrorist,” the Sikh Coalition posted on their Facebook page. “Nearly 8,000 retweets later, it’s good to see this important conversation continue and action being taken.”