Activist community

A decade after the Oak Creek shooting, Sikh community members and experts push for better policies and resources

Wisconsin native Pardeep Kaleka was on his way to the Sikh temple in Wisconsin when he heard there was an active shooter in the gurdwara – in the same place where his parents and several other devotees were preparing a community meal.

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

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

The shooting became the deadliest target offensive about Sikh Americans in United States history. So while hate crimes were not a new concept for Sikh Americans, the Oak Creek assault sent shockwaves through the community, said Sim J. Attariwala, senior policy and development officer. advocacy of the Sikh Coalition.

“It was a dark day,” Attariwala told CBS News. “I think every Sikh I know, including myself, 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 American minority groups has grown, he said.

“Oak Creek can be taken as a warning of the increasingly violent and assertive role that white supremacy has decided to 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 all, I think, have a strong 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 United States, said Michael Lieberman of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Federal agencies “repeatedly identify what they consider to be the deadliest domestic threats today, which are number one: racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate white superiority,” Lieberman said. at CBS News. “And two: anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists.

One way to potentially mitigate these threats in the future is to improve how hate crime data is tracked in this country, he said. Local law enforcement agencies only report hate crimes to the FBI voluntarily – they are not required to. This means that many hate crimes are likely to occur in the United States. undeclared.

“Having that data and taking data reporting seriously would help to be able to allocate resources,” Lieberman said. “If you know there have been three anti-Muslim hate crimes in a particular neighborhood, you can increase police patrols and reassure the community by asking city leaders to come out and talk to them.”

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

“This grant actually covers things like bulletproof glass, upgrading security alarms and installing new cameras and all that. So this money is really helping,” Singh told CBS News. “But at the moment the budget is limited, so the competition is getting really, really fierce.”

If the government is able to 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 grief into motivation for change, Kaleka told CBS News.

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

Lieberman said the world can look to the Sikh Americans’ response to the attack as an example of how to act in the face of tragedy. So far they’ve gotten the FBI to start tracking the number of hate crimes that specifically affect Sikhs, launched a National Day of Seva, also known as selfless service, where they encourage people to engage in some form of community service and have helped dozens of gurdwaras apply for the Federal Security Grant.

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