The Oak Creek massacre signaled the rise of White supremacist violence. But the warnings went unheeded – CNN

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By Harmeet Kaur | CNN | United States |

(CNN)No one in the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, could ever have imagined the horror that would unfold on August 5, 2012.

But when Pardeep Singh Kaleka looks back on that tragedy, in which a White supremacist gunman killed his father and six others at a Sikh gurdwara, he wonders if they should have seen it coming.

“There was a certain understanding that it could happen in life, it could happen in the streets, and it could happen in different places — but not at a faith site while people pray on a Sunday,” he told CNN. “At the same time, especially around the surrounding Milwaukee areas, there was a heightened sense of political tension with the changing demographics.”

When Kaleka’s family moved to Wisconsin from Punjab, India, in the ’80s, they got curious looks and questions about their turbans. Despite occasionally being subjected to hate, Kaleka says, they mostly felt welcomed. After 9/11, that curiosity turned to suspicion and prejudice and brown people across the country were being targeted in racist attacks. Tensions simmered as more immigrants moved in, and the gulf between Republicans and Democrats grew wider.

The Oak Creek shooting was a wake-up call — a harbinger of the racist, extremist violence that would again rear its head in other places like Charleston, South Carolina; PittsburghEl Paso, Texas and Buffalo, New York. But the warning signs were largely ignored, Kaleka and other Sikh community advocates say. In the decade since, the domestic terror threat has only escalated in the US, and mass shootings have become a fixture of American life. And with each new tragedy, Oak Creek fades further and further from public memory.

As families of the victims and Sikh civil rights organizations prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of the Oak Creek massacre, they’re calling on elected officials to remember — and to take concrete steps so that another community doesn’t have to endure the same pain.

Sikh advocates began working to prevent another Oak Creek from happening right after the attack.

But as community groups including the Sikh Coalition demanded that political leaders take seriously the threat of extremist violence, they also had to fight simply to be recognized.

About a month after the attack, in powerful testimony before the US Senate, Harpreet Singh Saini asked the federal government to give his mother “the dignity of being a statistic.”

Saini was 18 when the Oak Creek gunman killed Paramjit Kaur, along with Satwant Singh Kaleka, Suveg Singh Khattra, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh and Prakash Singh. (Baba Punjab Singh, who survived the attack but was left paralyzed, died from complications stemming from his injuries in 2020.) Saini’s mother would never see him go to college or get married. His life would never be the same.

Up until that point, the Oak Creek shooting was the worst hate crime committed in a house of worship since the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It seemed clear to Saini that the victims were targeted because of their distinct appearance. Paramjit covered her head with a dupatta as she sat for morning prayers, while the men wore turbans as symbols of their faith. Still, even though Sikhs had been targets of xenophobia and discrimination since their arrival in the US, the FBI at the time didn’t track hate crimes against Sikhs.

Read the full story here.

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A decade after Wisconsin Sikh gurdwara shooting, more can be done to stop white supremacists (Asia Samachar, 25 July 2022)



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