Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Reports of anti-South Asian bias, violence higher in California

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is looking for whoever vandalized a Sikh temple in Riverside with the word 'terrorist.'
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is looking for whoever vandalized a Sikh temple in Riverside with the word 'terrorist.'
Courtesy SALDEF

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California trails only New York when it comes to the number of suspected hate crimes against South Asians, Muslims and Arabs, according to a new report from a civil rights group.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) has tallied 76 reports of violence and harassment against members of these communities between 2011 and April 2014.

Thirteen of those reported incidents occurred in California — a surprise to executive director Suman Raghunathan given the state’s diverse make-up which includes one of the largest South Asian populations in the country.

She was also taken aback that some of the incidents took place in “long-standing South Asian communities such as Ontario, Fresno, Stockton, Hayward.”

They ranged from beating deaths to verbal threats and graffiti.

“It instills a profound sense of fear, lack of security and instability,” Raghunathan said.

Twenty other states also saw reported incidents, with New York leading the country with 16.

SAALT’s methodology for collecting data is not scientific: It relies on news reports.  But Raghunathan said SAALT feels compelled to keep a tally because the FBI does not track all hate crimes that affect their community, just those directed at Muslims. (The agency also tracks hate crimes against other religious groups such as Jews, Catholics, Protestants and atheists/agnostics.)

That will be changing soon, however. In January, the FBI will start collecting hate crimes numbers for Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs and other minorities, according to FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer. The decision came in 2103, a year after a gunman killed six Sikhs and wounded others at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

The SAALT report was timed to the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack taking place Thursday. Hostility against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians has risen post-9/11 and has been fed by ongoing unrest in the Middle East, Raghunathan said. 

“In an increasingly globalized world, there is no question that our communities face a ripple effect from international events,” Raghunathan said.

The report also cites dozens of incidents in which politicians such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former presidential candidate Herman Cain have fanned hostilities by depicting Muslims as “un-American, disloyal and suspect,” according to Raghunathan.