Sikh, Hindu and Arab minorities in the United States have long been demanding that incidents such as the Alabama attack on an elderly Indian man, gunning down of a Sikh by a white supremacist and the Wisconsin temple vandalism be defined as hate crimes, attracting closer scrutiny and more stringent punishment.
Their wish was granted last week. Congressman Joe Crowley, who spearheaded the effort, called it "a momentous achievement" from the steps of Capitol Hill on Wednesday, flanked by other lawmakers.
Among them was Ami Bera, the Indian-American House representative, who spoke to Hindustan Times. He called the Alabama incident a "crime of ignorance".
Excerpts of the interview:
What will change, Congressman?
The first step in addressing this issue is to collect data (which happens for hate crimes). Also, having it in the training manual (for the FBI) educates law enforcement officers to understand the difference between Sikh Americans, Arab Americans and Hindus Americans, which will help them do a better job.
A good first step.
Why did it take so long?
It's unfortunate that it took so long. But the fact that we advocated it shortly after getting elected to Congress… we took this issue up along with Congressman Crowley and really pushed for it.
You said this was a good first step. What more needs to be done? You think the communities need to do more outreach?
The communities, of course, are the best advocates in educating the broader public - about the Sikh faith, the Hindu faith, Arab Americans. They can educate people best about these peaceful religions and peaceful cultures.
Do you think there is a need to educate law enforcement officers too - the Alabama case (of a police officer slamming a visiting elderly man from India to the ground)?
There is a need to educate police officers, and this is a very good first step. Everything is now there in the training manual clearly. You are not lumping everyone together and people should be able to tell if the gentleman out there is a Sikh or of some other religion. You are now addressing communities in an appropriate way. The case in Alabama was horrific.
How would you describe it - racism or a hate-crime, if the two can be differentiated?
This was a crime of ignorance. And I am happy the FBI is looking into it.