A decade after Wisconsin Sikh gurdwara shooting, more can be done to stop white supremacists

Police guard the front of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where at least one gunman fired upon people at a service on Aug., 5, 2012 Oak Creek, Wis. At least six people were killed when a shooter, who was later shot dead by a police officer, opened fire on congregants in the Milwaukee suburb. – Photo: Denver Post

By Nikki Singh | Denver Post | United States |

To live in the United States is to live with the fear that a mass shooting could, at any point, take our lives or the lives of the ones we love. Sadly, as recent disasters have shown, no place is safe — from schools to supermarkets, concerts to office buildings, and newsrooms to festivals.

Sikh communities in Colorado and across the country are preparing to mourn and commemorate such an act of violence that invaded a house of worship. But then, we will turn our grief to action to fight for a better tomorrow.

On August 5, 2012, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was attacked by a white supremacist gunman. His hateful rampage ultimately resulted in the deaths of seven members of the small, tight-knit community of Sikhs in the city of Oak Creek; too many others were left with life-altering injuries, psychological trauma, and the absence of family, friends, and community members.

The waves of shock and pain that follow mass shootings like the one in Oak Creek have been felt by far too many Americans. Additionally, we must acknowledge that marginalized communities — including Sikhs, who despite belonging to the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, are often misunderstood by our neighbors — continue to bear the brunt of this violence. Buffalo, Atlanta, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Poway, Charleston, and others all offer irrefutable proof that white supremacy remains a clear and present threat across America.

To be sure, we must take time to mourn after such tragedies. I remember after the Oak Creek shooting, when my local Sikh community hosted a vigil at Colorado Singh Sabha, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Commerce City. Similar events were held from coast to coast, as local communities displayed incredible resilience, especially considering that the burden of explaining who Sikhs were, how we worship, and why we may have been targeted fell on us in our time of grief.

But action must follow that grief. Ten years ago, there was a concerted effort to ensure that the FBI started tracking anti-Sikh hate crimes and bias incidents. Harpreet Singh Saini, then an 18-year-old young man whose mother was killed by the Oak Creek shooter, testified before the Senate and pleaded for his mother to be given “the dignity of being a statistic.” The FBI ultimately began tracking anti-Sikh hate and ever since, we’ve watched the number of hate crimes and bias incidents steadily increase.

Today, Congress can take action to honor those lost in Oak Creek and other communities across the country. To address continuing hate crimes and bias incidents, the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act would fix a loophole that limits the ability of the federal government to prosecute such crimes. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act would make more resources available to gurdwaras and other houses of worship that want to apply for funding to improve their safety and security measures. And the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would ensure that our government is focused on white supremacy and other homegrown extremism, which is precisely the ideology that continues to target, harm, and kill marginalized communities like the one in Oak Creek.

The situation has only grown more dire in the decade since Oak Creek: more attacks, further polarization in our politics, and increasing influence from white supremacists — whether they are gunmen, media figures, or even elected officials. But I retain hope for the future, because a new generation of activists and allies is rising to take on this challenge.

So I ask of you what so many communities have asked in the aftermath of tragedy: Join us in grief and remembrance for those who we lost. Pause and consider how you would feel, or what you would do, if someone came to your own house of worship with hate in their heart. And then, turn that empathy to action and join us as we attempt to make real and lasting change.

The opinion piece was published by Denver Post on 23 July 2022. Nikki Singh serves as the senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights and advocacy organization.


Former Oak Creek officer shot at Sikh Temple reflects on attack as 10th anniversary approaches (Asia Samachar, 21 July 2022)

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