Reflections on Oak Creek: Sadly, this isn’t over yet…

This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.

Manju

Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Esq.
Executive Director,
South Asian Network

One year after the shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple, our community is continuing to grapple with serious concerns and significant fear about the repeated hate crimes and hate speech against members of our community.

Just days ago, there was a hate crime in our area—Southern California. Religious leaders and congregants of the Riverside Gurdwara awoke on the morning of July 30, 2013 to find the word “terrorist” sprayed on the temple walls.

It is another troubling incident for our community as we are mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly shooting of six of our Sikh brothers and sisters in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  And it is one year after we seek to heal from dozens of hate incidents against Muslim Americans that took place in quick succession across the country.

We are now well aware that these are not isolated incidents. They are part of a history of bigotry and prejudice against our community. We saw a huge rise in hate crimes, bullying and racial and religious discrimination after 9/11 and we are seeing ever increasing violence again. While we may not know the specific motives of each assailant in each act of violence, we know that they stem from bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment being fanned by irresponsible and bigoted comments made by some politicians and community leaders across the country. It is time that we make connections between the two as we stand up against hate speech and hate crimes targeted at our community as well as other communities. We must be as vigilant in opposing Rep. Steve King’s indefensible characterization of most Latino immigrants as “drug mules” as we are in challenging Rep. Peter King’s remarks about the vast radicalization of Muslim Americans. The two Kings’ comments are equally abhorrent and equally offensive.

The FBI recently announced that beginning in 2015, it will track hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu and Arab Americans. This change, resulting from years of community pressure, is a step in the right direction. Only after we have statistical evidence of the many hate incidents can we begin to understand the nature of the crimes and their impact on our communities and start to address them systemically. But, more—much more—is needed.

A few days after the Oak Creek shooting, a member of the Sikh Temple there stopped his car next to a pickup truck at an intersection. Creating the shape of a gun with his fingers and thumb, the man in the truck looked over at the Sikh gentleman, saying “This isn’t over yet.”

If we fail to stand up with our community members and members of other immigrant communities to protest this continuing pattern of hate and violence and demand action by our policymakers to address this wave of bigotry and prevent future attacks against Sikhs, Muslims, — against all of us — it won’t be over anytime soon.
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Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Esq.
Executive Director
South Asian Network

Manjusha (Manju) P. Kulkarni is Executive Director of the South Asian Network (SAN).  SAN is a community-based organization dedicated to advancing the health, empowerment and solidarity of persons of South Asian origin in Southern California.  Located in Artesia, California, SAN serves the needs of individuals of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Sri Lankan descent in the areas of civil rights, violence prevention and health and health care access.