Hate crime reports down, civil rights complaints up

SAN JOSE, California (AP) -- Groups tracking backlash violence since the September 11 attacks say hate crimes appear to be tapering off, although there are new complaints of workplace discrimination.

Reports of beatings, hate mail and firebombings poured into the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Sikh Coalition in the weeks following the terrorist attacks.

For the most part, those reports seem to have slowed, advocates said. Harassment has "shifted from those public cases of abuse and assault and verbal harassment on the streets," said Joshua Salaam, civil rights coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It's moved to airport profiling, to FBI harassment and workplace discrimination."
The council says it received 960 complaints between September 11 and Monday in which people said they were targeted because of their ethnicity, or because they appeared to be Middle Eastern. California and New York appear to be hotspots, with the highest number of complaints.

Included in the 960 reports are 105 workplace incidents in which people were allegedly fired, demoted or harassed because of their ethnicity, religion or appearance. The group also received 96 reports of so-called airport profiling in which passengers were asked to leave an airplane or were subjected to what they believed was undue scrutiny.

Such incidents have made Muslims very cautious when they venture out, Salaam said. "They go out and see a lot of stares," he said. "You can kind of feel there's a lot of hatred in the air, and distrust."

The American-Arab committee's legal department has interviewed victims and filed 360 complaints with federal agencies. Legal adviser Kareem Shora said there's also been a surge in people reporting they were terminated from jobs, denied jobs or placed on leaves of absence after the attacks.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said it received 494 calls between September 17 -- when it established a hot line for Arabs, Muslims and others -- and Sunday.

Another federal agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, received so many calls to its field offices that it introduced new codes into its national database to track charges filed by Arabs, Middle Easterners, Afghans and Sikhs.

Mistaken identity

Because they wear turbans and grow beards as signs of their faith, Sikhs have been mistakenly associated with Osama bin Laden. Recently, some Hispanics have also become targets, perhaps because of their skin color, advocates say. Even East Asians have reported harassment. In Lancaster, California, two men were charged with hate crimes this month after they allegedly chased a Hispanic man home, kicked in his front door and beat him as they shouted anti-Middle Eastern slurs.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said it has heard from Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and Filipinos whose alleged attackers linked them to the terrorist attacks. One person was told to "go back to Osama," said legal fellow Sin Yen Ling.

Such incidents make minorities feel apprehensive.

"The community is fearful," said Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh Coalition spokesman. "The majority of Sikhs that are in America are recent immigrants. We really don't necessarily have a place to go back to. This is our home."

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