The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

Hate Crimes Against Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the number of hate crimes directed against Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs escalated dramatically. In 2001, Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs were victimized in nearly five percent of the total number of hate crimes reported that year (481 out of 9,730), a seventeen-fold increase over the prior year. While the number of reported hate crimes against Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs has declined from the peak of 2001, it remains substantially above pre-2001 levels. In 2007, for example, 115 hate crimes were reported — more than four times as many as were reported in 2000.

Examples of hate crimes against Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs include:

  • In January 2009, Memphis store clerk Mohammed Al Hadi was murdered by an unknown assailant who calmly took aim and then fired, as if "he has some vendetta." On the same day, at another grocery story nearby, another clerk of Middle Eastern descent was also murdered.

    "It's terrible and I hate it because I knew the young man and he was nice," said one community resident. But a community activist warned that the store owners will need "to have a lot of security because this is not the end. This is only the beginning."45

    The two murders came on the heels of the killing on New Year's Day 2009 of an African American during an angry confrontation with another Middle Eastern store clerk, who police charged with murder. Following the shooting, unknown perpetrators set fire to the store and an employee's car, and activists called for a boycott of "all Arab-owned businesses in the neighborhood."46

    This incident reveals a significant problem with likely underreporting of hate crimes by law enforcement authorities. As of the date of this report, Memphis Police had classified the deaths of the two Middle Eastern grocery clerks as robberies, not hate crimes.47 On March 6, 2009 George Williams was arrested and charged with first degree murder in perpetration of a robbery.48

  • In Berkeley, California in September 2004, eight female Muslim students at the University of California were accosted by three white males who sprayed water on them, pelted them with water bottles, screamed derogatory statements, and mocked the traditional hijabs worn by some Muslim women. One woman was called an "East Oakland nigger." Two of the Muslim women reported that while this was the first time they have been physically confronted in Berkeley, verbal racial taunts are frequent.49

  • On a Lake Tahoe beach in July 2007, Vishal Wadhwa, 38, suffered fractures of several facial bones and an orbital fracture in one eye after being kicked and beaten by Joseph and Georgia Silva. Wadhwa approached the Silvas after they called him, his fiancée, and her cousin "terrorists," "relatives of Osama Bin Laden," and other slurs. The Silvas mistakenly believed the three victims "were Iraqi or Iranian or Middle Eastern" — in fact, they are all Indian American.

    In August 2008, the Silvas pleaded guilty to misdemeanors after a judge dismissed hate crime charges against Joseph Silva, finding that prosecutors had failed to prove that the attack was motivated by hate or prejudice or that sufficient force was used to make the crime a felony.50

  • In October 2008, Gagandeep Singh, a 10 year-old Sikh boy, was assaulted while walking home from school in Wayne, New Jersey by an unknown assailant who threw him to the ground and then cut his hair. To Sikhs, the cutting of hair is a particularly hateful crime, as they consider their hair a gift from God. "He came out of nowhere," Singh said. "He just came up behind me, threw me on the floor, held me with his feet and cut my hair with the knife or scissor. Then I jumped a few fences and ran away because I was so scared." Singh wonders of his assailant, "Why did you cut my hair? What do you want from Punjabis?"

    A few weeks later, a 67 year-old Sikh man was viciously beaten in the same community. "I said, ‘What do you want?' And he hit me," Ajit Singh Chima said. "A blow on the nose knocked me to the ground, [then] he kept punching and punching."

    Authorities believe the same assailant committed both crimes and that the motive was hate.51

Next Section: Hate Crimes Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals

45. Joyce Peterson, "Middle Eastern Clerks Shot in Memphis: Robberies or Hate Crimes?" My Eyewitness News, February 2, 2009.

46. "Man who police say shot 12-year-old boy makes court appearance," The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), January 2, 2009.

47. Peterson, "Middle Eastern Clerks Shot in Memphis: Robberies or Hate Crimes?"

48. "Suspect Arrested in Orange Mound Store Clerk Murder," My Fox Memphis, March 6, 2009.

49. Mary-Kameko Shibata, "8 Female Muslims Victims of Hate Crime," Daily Californian, September 20, 2004.

50. Bob Egelko, "2 Plead Guilty in S.F. Man's Beating in Tahoe," San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 2008. Jonathan Curiel, "Tahoe Couple Face Hate-crime Charges in Beating of S.F. Man," San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 2007.

51. Dave Carlin, "Hate Crimes Committed Against 2 NJ Sikhs," WCBSTV, October 31, 2008.

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