A decade after the Oak Creek shooting, members and experts of the Sikh community are pushing for improved policies and resources


Wisconsin-born Pardeep Kaleka was driving to the Wisconsin Sikh Temple when he heard there was an active shooter in the gurdwara – the very same place where his parents and several other members of the congregation were preparing a community meal.

His mother survived the attack on August 5, 2012, but his father, Satwant Kaleka, didn’t. He was one of seven innocent worshippers killed by a gunman with ties to white nationalist neo-Nazi groups.

“This tragedy was heard not only in the United States, but around the world,” Kaleka said at a vigil commemorating the event Friday. “It resonated with every Sikh.”

The shooting became the deadliest target attack on Sikh Americans in American History. So, while hate crime was not a new concept to Sikh Americans, the attack on Oak Creek sent shockwaves through the community, said Sim J. Attariwala, a senior policy and advocacy manager for the Sikh Coalition.

“It was a gloomy day,” Attariwala told TSTIME News. “I think every Sikh I know, myself included, remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news of the Oak Creek shooting.”

In the 10 years since the attack, the threat of white nationalism and crimes against Sikhs and other US minority groups has increased, he said.

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“Oak Creek can be seen as a warning of the increasingly violent and assertive role that white supremacy will play in American society over the next decade,” Attariwala said. “Our community, the AAPI community, the Latino community, the black community, the Jewish community, the Muslim community — they’re all, I think, with a heightened sense of vigilance.”

Authorities such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have found white supremacist groups to be one of the most dangerous threats in the US, said Michael Lieberman of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Federal agencies “repeatedly identify what they consider to be today’s most deadly domestic threats, which are number one: racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists advocating white race superiority,” Lieberman told TSTIME News. “And two: violent extremists against the government or against the authorities.”

One way to potentially mitigate these threats in the future is to improve the way hate crime records are kept in this country, he said. Local law enforcement agencies only voluntarily report hate crimes to the FBI – it’s not required. This means that it is likely that many hate crimes that take place in the US go unreported.

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“Having that data and taking the reporting of the data seriously would help allocate resources,” Lieberman said. “If you know that three hate crimes against Muslims have occurred in a certain neighborhood, you can increase the number of police patrols and reassure the community by letting civic leaders go out and talk to them.”

In addition to improving hate crime detection, some activists are pushing for more federal funding for safety facilities in places of worship. Sahej Preet Singh of the Sikh Coalition said that while the government currently offers these institutions a grant to receive money, it is a competitive process to actually get it.

“This grant covers things like bulletproof glass, improving security alarms and installing new cameras and stuff. So this money really helps,” Singh told TSTIME News. “But right now there’s a limited budget, so the competition is getting really, really fierce.”

If the government can increase the budget for this grant, more nonprofits and places of worship could get funding, he said.

Tragedies and hate crimes like the one in Oak Creek can be hard on targeted communities, but Sikh Americans have turned their heartbreak into a motivator for change, Kaleka told TSTIME News.

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“What happened that day didn’t stop us from understanding that we have a role to play in America. It just made us more determined,” he said. “In times of sadness and suffering, it sometimes brings out the worst in us. But for us, I think it brought out the best in us.”

Lieberman said the world can see the Sikh Americans’ response to the attack as an example of how to take action in the face of tragedy. So far they have gotten the FBI to monitor the number of hate crimes that specifically affect Sikhs, have initiated a National Day of Seva, also known as selfless service, where they encourage people to engage in some form of community service and dozens of help. of Gurdwaras apply for federal security grant.

“The resilience the community has shown and the way they have honored the memory of those who were murdered is through action,” he said. “The fact that so many members of this community recognize that there is a way to try and make things better, not just for the Sikh American community, but for everyone, that’s really a best practice for communities.



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