Letter of Transmittal

District of Columbia, Maryland, and 
Virginia Advisory Committees to 
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Members of the Commission
Mary Frances Berry, Chairperson
Cruz Reynoso, Vice Chairperson
Jennifer C. Braceras
Christopher Edley, Jr.
Peter N. Kirsanow
Elsie Meeks
Russell G. Redenbaugh
Abigail Thernstrom

Les Jin, Staff Director

The District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia Advisory Committees submit this report, Civil Rights Concerns in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Area in the Aftermath of the September 11, 2001, Tragedies, as part of their responsibility to advise the Commission on civil rights issues in their respective states. The Committees approved this report collectively in a vote of 37 to 1, with no abstentions. One dissenting statement and the editorial committee’s clarification to this statement are attached as appendices 1 and 2, respectively.[1]

The September 11 tragedies perpetrated by terrorists from Middle Eastern countries led to a surge in hate violence and discrimination against persons of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims, and by extension, South Asians, Sikhs, and others mistakenly perceived to be part of the Islamic community living in the United States.

At the same time, the federal government’s nationwide response in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks spurred new national policies, laws, and administrative directives that appeared to rights advocates as having devastating consequences for civil rights protections for residents and potential immigrants.

To address these and other related concerns and in response to the Commissioners’ urging all State Advisory Committees (SACs) to monitor pertinent developments, the Eastern Regional Office formed a DC/MD/VA Inter-SAC Committee in fall 2001, consisting of the chairperson and three members of each SAC. We believed that a joint, collaborative effort by three SACs could achieve a more comprehensive and in-depth examination of issues in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area than what may be possible by individual SACs separately. We also felt that it was sensible to consider the Washington metropolitan area as a whole because this area is home to large populations of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin whose strong religious and advocacy organizational bases are in the region, and it is also the site of one of the 9/11 attacks. Our efforts culminated in a two-day community forum held on April 24 and 25, 2002, in Annandale, Virginia, concentrating on four overlapping communities—Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs—that experienced hate violence and discrimination. While the forum was concerned first and foremost with the local situation, the Inter-SAC Committee thought it necessary to also incorporate the larger, national context of civil rights and civil liberties concerns. The forum included a broad spectrum of 35 panelists, who detailed the fears and concerns of affected, at-risk communities, and local government responses; how the United States has addressed civil liberties during past national crises; and civil liberties ramifications of the USA Patriot Act.

Through collective dialogue on these issues with panelists, our three Committees have drawn the following observations:

  1. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, hate violence and discrimination have had a severe impact on people of Arab, South Asian, Muslim, and Sikh backgrounds in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and across the United States. We have received reports of hundreds of hate incidents documented across the country. Mechanisms are now in place for members of the public to file complaints about airline discrimination. Representatives of federal agencies stated at the forum that these complaints were being investigated thoroughly. The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has publicly warned against hate violence and discrimination, created a special post-9/11 initiative, reached out to vulnerable communities, and opened 350 investigations into alleged hate crimes as well as numerous civil investigations into noncriminal bias incidents.

  2. The tactics being used to pursue the federal government’s war on terrorism pose a threat to civil liberties, and history gives reason to doubt their potential effectiveness. To the extent that government investigators target people based on their ethnic or religious background, these actions are at best ineffective protection against terrorism. Shielding government activity from public scrutiny, relying on secret evidence, and abridging the protection of constitutional guarantees run the risk of alienating communities whose help the government has said it wants.

  3. Combating terrorism should never become a war against Arab Americans or Muslims, or any group, based on religion or national origin. Collective dialogue should be encouraged and mutual understanding enhanced between members of the affected communities and others in our society. To that end, organizations representing Arab Americans and other affected groups have long been concerned about the public’s general lack of knowledge about their communities and the prevalence of negative stereotypes. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, efforts to promote understanding between different ethnic and religious groups began well before September 11, 2001. Not only do they need to be expanded, but other efforts should be doubled to prevent hate violence and discrimination. Some local government and law enforcement agencies made commendable efforts in this regard, serving as worthy models for other local government or public agencies.


Rev. Lewis M. Anthony
District of Columbia Advisory Committee

Mr. Richard E. Patrick
Virginia Advisory Committee

Rev. Douglas B. Sands Sr.
Maryland Advisory Committee

[1] Early in the process of report preparation, the Inter-SAC Committee appointed an editorial committee consisting of three SAC chairpersons and one designee from each of the three SACs, charging it to shepherd the report on behalf of the committees through final editing. The editorial committee unanimously decided to write a response to the dissent, which is presented in appendix 2.