A Gunman Killed Six Sikh Americans In Prayer Three Years Ago
Three years ago, on August 5, 2012, a gunman with ties to white supremacist organizations entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin while Sikh Americans were praying, and opened fire. Six innocent members of the Sikh faith were fatally shot and killed, many others were wounded, and an entire faith community was terrorized. At the time, the massacre was deemed the largest act of violence on a faith community since the 1963 Church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama.
On that day, the Sikh community of Oak Creek fell victim to another dangerous person with too easy access to guns. But violence against Sikhs and their largely misunderstood religion go far beyond one incident. It is difficult to quantify the exact number of hate crimes against Sikhs because Sikh-specific data is unavailable; the information we do have, however, indicates that the problem is pervasive in the Sikh community. Here are some facts:
- 83 percent of Sikh respondents revealed they either personally experienced or knew someone who experienced a hate crime or incident on account of their religion in a 2006 study.
- Over 800 bias incidents and crimes committed against Sikhs, Muslims, Arabs, and other South Asian groups, which were reported to the DOJ, were investigated in the first six years since September 11th. A Sikh man was murdered in Arizona just after September 11th and his killer proudly proclaimed that he was a “patriot and an American” as police approached him. A Sikh high school student had his turban set on fire in New Jersey as a cruel prank in 2008.
- 140 anti-Sikh hate crimes from 2001 to 2012 have been compiled and reviewed by the Sikh Coalition.
These numbers highlight just the most disturbing attacks and don’t even begin to explore the daily bias faced by Sikhs from name calling to extra scrutiny at airports. Many of these attacks against the Sikh community stem from intense xenophobia and religiophobia that have incorrectly labeled Sikhs. In fact, 70 percent of Americans have misidentified turban-wearing Sikh’s as Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist—proof that the true meaning of Sikhism is largely misunderstood
Humility, service, charity and love are the pillars on which Sikhism rests, and this anniversary is an important time to highlight the true nature of the religion. After the Charleston shooting, for example, the Sikh community in Oak Creek made a special effort to reach out to the families of the Charleston victims. Sikh Americans have been remembering the tragedy and honoring the victims with seva, a central tenet of Sikhism requiring selfless service to those in need.
The media and law enforcement have been quick to describe certain attacks, like the recent shooting in Chattanooga by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, as incidents of terrorism. That label is not misapplied – but it is alarming how reluctant many mainstream groups have been to describe other attacks driven by racial or ethnic bias, like Oak Creek and Charleston, as terrorism. When we fail to apply this label, these incidents are interpreted differently, and Americans who are part of these communities stay marginalized in society.
BOTTOM LINE: Tomorrow, we remember six members of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin community who were gunned down in a senseless act of hate and domestic terrorism. This is also a moment to highlight the broader intimidation and violence that the Sikh community faces—in the face of observing a religion, often misunderstood, that stresses humility, service, charity, and love.
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