Tracking Hate Crimes, Tracking the FBI’s Crimes [Opinion]
Over the last month since the horrific tragedy in Oak Creek, WI, Sikh civil rights organizations and other leaders in the community seem to have come to a consensus on what our collective demand should be to move forward — getting the FBI to track hate crimes against Sikhs. A few weeks ago Valarie Kaur wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Sikhs deserve the dignity of being a statistic,” in which she convincingly articulates the basic argument that many are making:
The FBI tracks all hate crimes on Form 1-699, the Hate Crime Incident Report. Statistics collected on this form allow law enforcement officials to analyze trends in hate crimes and allocate resources appropriately. But under the FBI’s current tracking system, there is no category for anti-Sikh hate crimes. The religious identity of the eight people shot in Oak Creek will not appear as a statistic in the FBI’s data collection. As a Sikh American who hears the rising fear and concerns in my community, I join the Sikh Coalition and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) in calling for the FBI to change its policy and track hate crimes against Sikhs.
We’ve all probably gotten numerous action alerts to sign petitions, call our Senators, and, most recently, to attend tomorrow’s Senate hearing on hate violence in Washington, DC. The Sikh Coalition’s email advisory today about tomorrow’s hearing begins, “Be Present and Request that the FBI Track Hate Crimes Against Sikhs.”
It seems like a sensible request. The FBI is a government agency responsible for investigating hate crimes, so of course they should be looking specifically at attacks targeting Sikhs and have a category to enable them to do so. While I am sympathetic to this cause, I am a bit troubled by it, or have some questions about it, as well.
While I am not necessarily against the idea of a Sikh box for the FBI to check in the case of a hate attack against a Sikh, I am very skeptical of the FBI being an agency capable of working in the best interests of our community. To put it directly, I don’t trust them. And I’m not sure there is any reason for our community at large to trust them. Isn’t trust a prerequisite to inviting someone with a whole lot of power and resources into your homes, your schools, your houses of worship?
So, why don’t I trust the FBI (and perhaps why shouldn’t you trust them either)? In a word: COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was the FBI’s secret (and illegal) program to spy on, intimidate, infiltrate, and ultimately, undermine groups and individuals working for racial, social, and economic justice in the 1960s and 1970s — by any means necessary, including planting false documents, wrongful imprisonment, and even assassination. Groups and individuals targeted include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., NAACP, American Indian Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, and of course, the Black Panthers (to name a few). This one minute video encapsulates it well:
Whether you are familiar with this ugly history of the FBI or not, you might be thinking — well things are different now. The FBI is not led by a repressive, perhaps fascist, ideologue like J. Edgar Hoover any more. This is 2012, and Barack Obama is our president!
However, the FBI’s track record in the domestic War on Terror illuminates the sobering reality that things perhaps aren’t so different today than in the days of COINTELPRO. The target, in this case, has by and large been Muslims. The FBI has extensively spied on Muslims in their mosques and community centers in the last several years, sometimes even in the name of “community outreach.” In one documented case, the FBI even got a Sikh man to do their dirty work in a mosque in Iowa, as Jodha previously wrote about.
Perhaps their most controversial tactic is entrapment – when they send in an informant (who is basically bribed by the FBI) to create anti-American fervor amongst their targets and convince someone to get involved in a fake terror plot. A recent episode of This American Life tells the story of an informant — posing as a Muslim convert — who showed up at a mosque in Orange County, CA, just after the FBI publicly visited the mosque to assure Muslims community members that they weren’t being spied on and to encourage a cooperative relationship. I highly recommend checking out the podcast to get a very real sense of the FBI’s tactics in the present day.
The FBI has even been caught in entrapment schemes targeting the Occupy movement. A recent article in Rolling Stone describes a case from Cleveland, OH involving Occupy activist preparing for May Day actions:
The guy who convinced the plotters to blow up a big bridge, led them to the arms merchant, and drove the team to the bomb site was an FBI informant. The merchant was an FBI agent. The bomb, of course, was a dud. And the arrest was part of a pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement since September 11, 2001, not of terrorist suspects, but of young men federal agents have had to talk into embracing violence in the first place.
If this is not enough to be skeptical of the FBI, consider their role in the secret detentions of Muslims in the United States post-9/11.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the FBI conducted indiscriminate roundups of mostly Muslim men in the United States. About 1,200 people were arrested. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the government “refused to release their names or their place of detention” and the detainees “were barred from contacting their lawyers.” Furthermore, the institute states, “many detainees taken into custody in connection with investigations subsequent to the attacks were arrested without warrant, held without charge for long periods, detained despite an immigration judge’s decision to release them on bond, and detained even after a final determination of their cases.” Many of the people arrested after 9/11 were deported back to their countries of origin.
There is a bitter irony to all of this when we reflect upon the root causes of such white supremacist atrocities like that of August 5th in Oak Creek. We turn to our government for support, we turn to the FBI for support, when their very policies have helped make the vilification of Muslims the status quo in post-9/11 America. This vilification, which has so often been the cause of much of the hatred and violence we Sikhs have experienced in the last 11 years. I’m not saying Wade Page walked into that gurdwara because of the FBI, but I’m saying we have to look at the bigger picture when trying to understand white supremacist violence. We are quick to assume agencies like the FBI are on our side, but when we look at their policies of spying, entrapment, and detention — not only targeting Muslims but also social justice activists — does it seem like they’re on our side? Do they seem worthy of our trust, of our cooperation?
It may not seem like Sikhs are the target of these policies of repression now, but who’s to say we won’t be in the future? (And does it even matter if we are the target if other communities are being targeted, given our commitment to sarbat da bhala?) Government spying and repression is nothing new for Sikhs — indeed, I seldom meet a Sikh activist who would ever trust the Indian government. So again I ask, why are we so quick to trust the US government, and even more specifically, the FBI? Whether we get our Sikh check box or not, whether we get to be a legitimate FBI statistic or not, I hope we can begin to ponder these questions as a community.