As President Donald Trump releases his new Muslim ban, officials are investigating the shooting of a Sikh man in Washington state as a hate crime. The incident underscores the danger of having a government that legitimizes racial and religious profiling, implicitly validates the hatred of extremist groups, and promotes right-wing media myths to criminalize immigrants and refugees.
Trump signed his revised Muslim ban on March 6, almost six weeks after he put out his original order, which proved indefensible and was blocked by a federal court. According to the Center for American Progress, the policy “not only has nothing to do with preventing terrorism, it also helps the Islamic State, or IS, and makes Americans less safe.” Additionally, leaked Department of Homeland Security memos undercut several administration rationales for the travel ban. Initiatives under Trump’s order, including the recently announced Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will allegedly report on so-called “honor killings” by foreign nationals among other violent incidents, also serve no legitimate public safety purpose and appear to be an excuse to promote the persistent and dangerous right-wing media myths that immigrants and refugees are criminals.
Despite the Trump administration’s claims that the order does not discriminate on the basis of religion, experts and advocates agree that the intent behind it is the same, and its legitimization of discrimination against an entire group of people based on their country of origin will undoubtedly fuel hatred from the radical right just the same, too.
Hate groups generally are on the rise in America, a finding that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census of hate groups attributes in large part to Trump’s presidential candidacy and its validation of far-right extremists. The report found that the most dramatic growth was in hate groups that target Muslims (and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Sikhs), which have increased from 34 in 2015 to 101 in total last year.
According to The Washington Post, the victim, who has been identified as 39-year-old Sikh man, Deep Rai, was working in his driveway in a town outside Seattle on March 3 when he was accosted by an armed white man in a mask who said, “Go back to your own country,” before shooting the victim in the arm. The victim was not a believer of Islam, but of Sikhism, a Indian monotheistic religion of which there are about 25 million adherents worldwide. As the Sikh Coalition, America's largest Sikh civil rights group, explained to CNN, Sikhs are often targeted for hate crimes in part "’due to the Sikh articles of faith, including a turban and beard, which represent the Sikh religious commitment to justice, tolerance and equality.’" Since the 9/11 terror attacks there have been thousands of reports from the Sikh community about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling, but the FBI began including hate crimes against Sikhs in their annual report only in 2016, and many in the Sikh community believe the media is still underreporting hate crimes against Sikhs.
In his first speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, Trump remarked, “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” While his apparent commitment to Jewish victims of religious hate is inconsistent and a departure from his previous refusal to denounce anti-Semitism, his failure to denounce xenophobia in his mention of the “Kansas shooting” is a conspicuous omission. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was an Indian immigrant in Kansas who was shot and killed by a white man who, similar to the perpetrator of the Washington shooting, shouted, “Get out of my country" before fatally shooting him and wounding another immigrant, Alok Madasani. The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime, was largely ignored by broadcast and cable news.
It is crucial that these individual hate crimes not be lost in coverage of Trump's immigration policies, which are inspired by dangerous right-wing media myths and validate extremist views. In the aggregate, these shootings are simply another form of state-supported hate.
Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.
This post has been updated with additional information about the victims.