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Minority Groups Hail Hate Crime Initiative at White House

The White House's decision to launch a new interagency initiative to better prevent and respond to hate crimes is being welcomed as a necessary step.

The White House's decision to launch a new initiative to "strengthen" hate crime prevention is being praised by civil rights groups representing some of the most-targeted communities -- South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Arab Americans.

The Administration announced the new Interagency Initiative in conjunction with last week's fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The group will be coordinated by the White House Domestic Policy Council and will focus on hate crime prevention and response. Working in concert, the Department of Justice announced new related training for state, local, and tribal agencies.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) praised the effort, noting the group will work in part with a hate violence model developed by SAALT in collaboration with a number of South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Arab ally organizations.

In its latest report, a three-year study called “Under Suspicion, Under Attack,” SAALT found nearly 160 instances almost evenly split between xenophobic rhetoric and hate violence targeting these communities. The report, an update to an earlier post-9/11 survey, found the rhetoric had become, “more frequent, more insidious, and more likely to be featured on a national platform," and the attacks had "expanded in volume, as well as intensity.”

Over the past five years (2009-2013), the Department of Justice charged 201 defendants on federal hate crimes or related charges, an increase of almost 50% from the prior five years (2004-2008), according to Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council.