As the toll of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon begins to be felt throughout the nation, the events of Sept. 11 are taking new victims-Arab and Muslim Americans who have become the target of hate crimes.
In the week since the attack there have been two hate crimes against Arab or Muslim Americans reported in Oakland, half of the total number of hate crimes in the city for all of last year, said officer George Phillips of the Oakland police department. It is hard to estimate the total number of people who have been targeted because of their religion or ethnic background nation wide.
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination League has documented more than 200 hate crimes against Arab Americans in the first three days after the World Trade Center collapsed. Grassroots Organizers from the Muslim and Arab Communities, GOMAC, have cataloged about 25 attacks during the weekend following the attack.
“The community is afraid to report crimes,” said Iman, who did not give her last name, from GOMAC. The organization has decided not to release the full names of any employees or the exact location of their Bay Area phone bank, fearing workers could become targets.
Officer Phillips was also concerned about under-reporting. “We really don’t know how many have occurred,” he said. “We are assuming that most of these events go unreported.”
“The amount and type of crimes we are hearing about are heartbreaking,” Iman said. Reports included beatings, verbal assaults and the vandalizing of homes and stores. A Sihk man in Arizona was murdered last week in an apparent hate crime.
The Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area expresses concern about these crimes on the organization’s voicemail. The message goes on to say that they stand beside the victims and their families.
“You feel as though you have to prove you are a loyal citizen all of the time,” Iman said. “But to whom? It is about time for the general public to understand that we are citizens of the U.S. too.”
Many people who are neither Arab nor Muslim have also been victimized since the attacks on Tuesday. Sikh organizations around the nation have reported that they have been subject to physical and verbal abuse.
More than one hundred accounts of hate crimes against Sikhs, from a woman who had slurs shouted at her in the Netherlands to the beating of a young man in San Francisco, have been documented by Harminde Samana, the secretary of a temple in Fremont.
“People are attacking us because of our identity,” Samana said. “They do not know or understand who we are.”
While the total number of crimes motivated by racist backlash from Sept. 11 attack is unknown, some people have decided to work to prevent further violence.
Annabel Lund, who did humanitarian aid work in Bosnia, has set up an organization in the South Bay to help protected anyone who may be a target of hate crimes. She said that there have been more requests for help and offers of assistance than she had expected.
The organization, called neighbor to neighbor, has walked Muslim children to school at the request of their parents and assisted in cleaning up sites that have vandalized by recruiting community members concerned about racism.
“The idea is that there are as many neighbors who need to help as those that need to be helped,” Lund said. It is an idea that has been well received in communities that may be targeted for victimization. GOMAC also has a program to match volunteers with those who have been targeted for attacks.
“We want the protection of our community,” said Samana, “the American community.”
Both organizations are hoping to get more help from the wider community. GOMAC runs a toll free number, 877.282.2288, out of private funds. Lund fears that the number of hate crimes will rise in the coming weeks as mourning turns to anger and is worried about keeping up the momentum to fight violence, but she holds out hope for the future.
“Good can come out of bad if you can get through the hell in between, ” Lund said.
For more information on how to help, email GOMAC at firstname.lastname@example.org or neighbor to neighbor at email@example.com.