On August 5th, 2012, six Sikh worshippers were killed, and four others wounded, by a white supremacist skinhead at their Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooter then turned his gun on himself. Less than a week after the tragedy, US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. participated in a memorial service for the victims, stating that the crime was “an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime.”
Now, five year later, as we observe the anniversary of this tragedy, we can honor the memory of the victims by recommitting ourselves to the fight against discrimination and hate crimes – and by working to ensure that all places of worship will be safe.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, our nation experienced a disturbing number of backlash attacks against Muslim, Sikhs, Arabs, and South Asians. In fact, the first bias-motivated murder after 9/11 was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona.
After the Oak Creek murders, ADL worked with national Sikh leadership organizations and Members of Congress, led by Rep. Joseph Crowely (D-NY), to promote specific hate crime data collection for hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs and others. The FBI Advisory Policy Board agreed, and these categories of hate crime were incorporated into the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) annual national data collection program. The Bureau updated its guidelines and training manual with a special section on how to collect this data. The FBI 2015 HCSA report was the first year in which police agencies were asked to report anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu, and anti-Arab hate crimes. Early data on anti-Sikh and other religious hate crimes was the topic of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, at which ADL provided testimony.
ADL documented an increase in hate crimes during a long and very divisive election campaign, which brought out some of the worst elements of our society. Hate-filled language, memes, stereotyping and scapegoating were injected into the mainstream of America’s debate through traditional and social media. The campaign included the demonization of women, disabled individuals, Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants – and threats to restrict their rights in America. Now, the Trump administration has begun to take executive action to carry out these threats.
As we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Oak Creek, we can take some solace in knowing that our communities have done positive work to honor the victims and address hate violence. Collecting specific data on anti-Sikh and other religious hate crimes will increase public awareness, encourage victims to report these crimes, and expand existing awareness, engagement, and relationships between law enforcement authorities, public officials, and our communities.