2 Years After Oak Creek: What are We Doing about Hate Crimes?

August 8, 2014

This week marked the two-year anniversary of the Sikh gurdwara shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which took the lives of six community members: Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh.

The gunman, Wade Michael Page, had ties to a white supremacist organization and was clearly motivated by post-9/11 anxieties and bigotry. Faith communities were hit especially hard by fear by killing spree, as the sanctity of a place of worship had been violated in one of the worst hate crimes witnessed in recent history.

Since this horrific event, the Sikh community has galvanized efforts to restore community spirit and address the nuances of hate violence in post-9/11 America. As a result, initiatives like the Sikh Healing Collective were formed to help relieve trauma and provide culturally competent resources to improving the emotional wellness of the victims. Moreover, young Sikh Americans have formed interfaith coalitions on the local and state levels to build connections and solidarity.

Despite the noble work that these local communities have done and encouraged, the Obama administration continues to stay silent on the crucial issue of hate crimes. Only one Senate hearing, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), has been held since the shooting. The stories of the six victims and how we choose to honor them may impact future attitudes towards other hate crimes and hate incidents. During the hearing, Durbin and the rest of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee heard the personal stories of the victims. The son of Paramjit Kaur spoke of his mother that she was a deeply religious woman and prayed at the gurdwara every Thursday and Sunday. She was heavily invested in her children’s education and did everything she could to ensure her children had every opportunity to live a successful life.

Suveg Singh Khattra was a grandfather of seven and was described as a devout man who would attend the gurdwara early in the morning and stay until evening. He moved to the United States eight years before his tragic death to be with his son.

They -- and all Americans -- deserve better.

Sadly, the Oak Creek shooting was far from an isolated incident. In fact, in just the week after the shooting, there were numerous attacks on mosques around the country. A mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin, MO; a man shot at mosque with over 500 worshipers inside in Morton Grove, IL; and an improvised explosive was thrown at an Islamic school in outside Chicago.

So what have our elected officials done in the past two years to prevent future hate crimes against faith communities?

Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi has spearheaded community interfaith discussions and meetings to strengthen ties and improve crime prevention initiatives such as the Oak Creek Cares initiative. Cultural competency training on hate crimes was implemented for the police force as well.

MPAC urges policymakers, law enforcement, and government officials to follow Mayor Scaffidi’s leadership in tackling the impact of hate crimes, instituting methods to prevent them, and developing processes designed to heal communities after they have already happened.

As we remember the victims of Oak Creek, we should take a minute to push our leaders to act to prevent and address hate crimes and hold them accountable when they fall short.

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