SAALT Honors the Victims of Oak Creek Calls for Policy Change

August 5, 2015
Con­tact: Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran,

Three years ago today on August 5, 2012 a known white suprema­cist mur­dered six Sikh-Amer­i­cans at their Gur­d­wara or place of wor­ship in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin. SAALT con­tin­ues to mourn and hon­or the vic­tims: Suveg Singh, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Ran­jit Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh. This past week­end, the Oak Creek com­mu­ni­ty came togeth­er along with hun­dreds from around the coun­try for the annu­al Char­di Kala 6K Run/Walk in the spir­it of hope and relent­less opti­mism.

Oak Creek was a tragedy — not only for South Asian and Sikh Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, but for the nation as a whole. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, what hap­pened that day is becom­ing less of an anom­aly due to a num­ber of rea­sons: South Asians are the most rapid­ly grow­ing demo­graph­ic group in the coun­try set­tling in new des­ti­na­tion com­mu­ni­ties. And, unre­lent­ing hate vio­lence con­tin­ues to tar­get South Asians and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or at large.

In the last six months alone, there have been vio­lent inci­dents tar­get­ing Hin­du, Arab, and Sikh com­mu­ni­ties in New Jer­sey, North Car­oli­na, and Cal­i­for­nia, respec­tive­ly. Cur­rent poli­cies do not allow for such inci­dents to be eas­i­ly cat­e­go­rized as hate crimes. This must change. These events are also part of an alarm­ing trend of white suprema­cist activ­i­ty, fur­ther illus­trat­ed by the dead­ly shoot­ing at the Moth­er Emanuel AME church in Charleston in June fol­lowed by a wave of arsons at Black church­es in the South. Com­mu­ni­ties of col­or are increas­ing­ly fac­ing a com­mon threat of vio­lence from white suprema­cy, even as our nation grows more racial­ly and eth­ni­cal­ly diverse. In a 2011 study, Pol­i­cyLink esti­mat­ed that the Unit­ed States will be major­i­ty peo­ple of col­or by the year 2040.

Sad­ly, this growth is paired with a cur­rent polit­i­cal debate that is increas­ing­ly char­ac­ter­ized by polit­i­cal rhetoric that paints our com­mu­ni­ties as dis­loy­al, sus­pi­cious, and un-Amer­i­can. SAALT’s report Under Sus­pi­cion, Under Attack, released last Sep­tem­ber doc­u­ment­ed 78 instances of xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal speech over a three-year peri­od span­ning 2011–2014, of which near­ly two-thirds occurred at the nation­al lev­el.

We can only expect the debate to get worse this elec­tion cycle. GOP pres­i­den­tial con­tender Don­ald Trump has already described Mex­i­can immi­grants as “rapists and mur­der­ers.” Repub­li­cans in Con­gress con­tin­ue to push an anti-sanc­tu­ary cities bill that will under­mine rela­tion­ships between law enforce­ment and immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. We have also seen the Coun­ter­ing Vio­lent Extrem­ism pro­gram emerge from fed­er­al gov­ern­ment this year that dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly focus­es on Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and not enough on the real threats of white suprema­cy and domes­tic ter­ror­ism.

But, our com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ue to push for change. The Oak Creek shoot­ing helped dri­ve a crit­i­cal change in the FBI hate crimes report­ing pro­to­col this year. For the first time, there are now cat­e­gories for crimes moti­vat­ed by anti-Sikh, Hin­du and Arab sen­ti­ment. The White House also cre­at­ed a high-lev­el Inter­a­gency Task Force last year focused on address­ing hate vio­lence nation­wide.

How­ev­er, it is crit­i­cal that there are strong hate crime poli­cies at the state and local lev­el, which is where the rela­tion­ships between local res­i­dents, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions, and law enforce­ment are most impor­tant. The may­or of Oak Creek coor­di­nat­ed his city staff, police, and fire depart­ments to devel­op a mod­el first response munic­i­pal pol­i­cy after the shoot­ing. The Arab Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of New York and oth­ers suc­cess­ful­ly advo­cat­ed for the Brook­lyn Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office to estab­lish a unit ded­i­cat­ed to inves­ti­gat­ing hate crimes last year. This is the kind of infra­struc­ture that all com­mu­ni­ties need to address and hope­ful­ly pre­vent hate vio­lence.

In the spir­it of Char­di Kala or relent­less opti­mism, we hon­or the vic­tims of that trag­ic day three years ago and stand with our 51 com­mu­ni­ty part­ners nation­wide to help stem the tide of relent­less vio­lence tar­get­ed at our com­mu­ni­ties and all com­mu­ni­ties of col­or.