Update — August 5, 2013: ADL has joined a coalition of groups urging the White House to also take steps to address religious-based violence and discrimination.
On August 5, 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, one year later, we observe the anniversary of this tragedy, honoring the memory of the victims by elevating 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 has 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 Gurdwara murders, ADL Chicago/Upper Midwest Regional Office Director Lonnie Nasatir participated in a program in Oak Creek with the US Attorney and FBI officials to show support for the community and ADL professionals across the country reached out to Sikh organizations to provide resources on how to keep their community institutions safe.
ADL has been the national leader in promoting improved hate crime data collection by law enforcement authorities. Since 2008, the League has supported requiring the FBI to collect and report specific data on hate crimes directed against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus.
The murders at Oak Creek provided additional impetus to make this change. And the issue was examined and promoted in September 19 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearings on “Hate Crime and the Threat of Domestic Extremism,” to which the League submitted comprehensive testimony.
Working with Congressional champions, like Rep. Joseph Crowley, the League helped to coordinate a coalition effort to urge the FBI to include these new hate crime data categories as part of the Bureau’s annual hate crime report prepared under the 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act. In May, an FBI Advisory Policy Board recommended that the Bureau take this action.
As we commemorate the first anniversary of the tragedy at Oak Creek, we can take some solace in knowing that our communities have done something positive to address that horrific incident. Collecting specific data on hate crimes directed against individuals will increase public awareness, encourage victims to report these crimes, and expand existing engagement and relationships between law enforcement authorities and these communities. ADL has joined a coalition of groups urging the White House to also take steps to address religious-based violence and discrimination.
Our attention now turns to working with the FBI and local law enforcement officials to provide training and education on these crimes.