Ten years after massacre at Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, we must keep pushing back against hate
The Sikh Coalition and other groups, including Muslims, Arabs and South Asians of different faiths, have been working to raise the alarm about the tide of fear and bigotry. white supremacy and other forms of violent hate have only grown more emboldened and deadly.
The tragedy at Oak Creek may not be well-remembered by most Americans, but it was a turning point for the Sikh community.
On Aug. 5, 2012, a white supremacist gunman attacked the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where community members young and old were gathering for prayers and a communal meal. Six victims were killed and another died as a result of his injuries years later.
At the time, it was the deadliest assault on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Sadly, Sikhs are no stranger to hate and discrimination in the United States. I should know: For more than 15 years, I have spent my career as an attorney vindicating the rights of Sikhs subjected to hate crimes, workplace discrimination and other acts of bigotry against our community.
While Sikhs have faced bias since first arriving in the country in the early 1900s, a fresh wave of backlash emerged in 2001 immediately after 9/11. Many Sikhs, who keep articles of faith like turbans and unshorn beards, were met with suspicion, fear and even violence by their fellow Americans looking for someone to blame after the terrorist attacks.
In the decade between 9/11 and Oak Creek, Sikhs were attacked on the street, bullied in schools and illegally prohibited from maintaining their articles of faith in workplaces across the public and private sectors.
Advocate organizations like my own, the Sikh Coalition, worked to raise the alarm about this tide of fear and bigotry — as did members of other communities (including Muslims, Arabs and South Asians of different faiths) who were experiencing the same issues.
Now, as we pause in remembrance — and look to honor the resilience and strength of the Oak Creek community 10 years on — we are committed to taking this anniversary as a moment to reinvigorate calls for action that can help prevent such tragedies in the future.
Congress can better protect individuals by passing the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act. The act will close a loophole that allows the federal government to prosecute a hate crime case only when hate is the sole motive, a difficult legal standard to meet.
Congress can protect minority institutions by passing the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act, which will increase the amount of available funding for houses of worship to make safety and security renovations. And they can better protect us all by reintroducing and passing the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.
This critical bill will increase interagency coordination and require threat assessments of white supremacists and other domestic terrorists — an important step, and one that will not further harm the Black and Brown communities that it is meant to protect.
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For many Sikhs, a targeted assault against a house of worship, like the one in Oak Creek, was one of our worst fears. Unfortunately, the fact is that white supremacy and other forms of violent hate have only grown more emboldened — and more deadly — in the past decade. For that reason, this anniversary is the right moment to speak out and insist that we refuse to live in a society where we continue to be subjected to bigoted violence.
Hold your families tighter this weekend, because too many across our country are deprived of the opportunity to do so. Remember and empathize with those who have faced hate or discrimination — whether it meant the end of their lives or an attack on their dignity.
And then join us in action to make a safer and more inclusive society for all.
Harsimran Kaur is an attorney who serves as senior counsel at the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization.
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