HomeSikh Americans10 years later- remembering the 7 killed at Oak Creek

10 years later- remembering the 7 killed at Oak Creek

By Kiran Kaur Gill, Executive Director Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

This past weekend neighbors from a town united by tragedy and people from around the nation united by a desire for change came together as a community to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and the seven people killed.

The events centered on those lives lost and supporting each other through the ongoing processes of grief, reflection and healing. Additionally, it was an opportunity to unite in community and recommit ourselves to the work of building a world that is diverse, inclusive, and more kind.
In working alongside the Oak Creek planning team over the last year with Pardeep Kaleka, Navi Gill and Mandeep Kaur, I knew there was a deep dedication to work in community. What I didn’t anticipate was how that would manifest.

Seeing over 700 people gather at the remembrance event on Friday August 5th was awe inspiring and truly heartwarming. While I had heard about the support of the broader Oak Creek community and the relationships built across people of different faiths and backgrounds, it was
incredible to witness it in person. This is clearly the result of the deep and personal connections built through the years and doing the hard work of taking the time to understand one and other.

This was no more evident than in the speech of Kamal Saini, son of the late Paramjit Kaur, in which he outlined his journey to become a law enforcement officer. It was inspired by the heroism of Lt Brian Murphy and the subsequent love and support Kamal received from him.

Photo courtesy Amrita Kular

The speeches by the children of the victims of the Oak Creek tragedy left me with a profound and deep lesson. It was clear, despite the passage of 10 years, they still experienced deep pain and loss. Healing is an ongoing process and it continues until today. As Kamal Kaur, daughter of
the late Sita Singh, reminded us in her speech “remember, not just today but each and every day”. To these children, the sense of loss lingers far past the anniversary, it is felt throughout the year. It is therefore imperative that we assist in offering support to these children and families
not just once a year, but whenever and however we can.

It is also clear that everyone wants to see fundamental societal change around domestic terrorism and gun violence. Amaris Kaleka, granddaughter of the late Satwant Singh Kaleka, eloquently alluded to this in her remarks as she shares that the anger of Wade Michael Page
was “fueled by a gun”. While there has been work done, there is still so much work still left to do.

Photo courtesy Amrita Kular

The fact that we continue to see communities torn apart by mass shootings and gun violence deepens the wounds and makes victim’s family members feel like the loss of their loved one
was in vain. The recent shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo came up frequently in conversations with the victim’s family members. We need to do more as a society to ensure these types of tragedies never happen again.

SALDEF along with other civil rights organizations are advocating for three pieces of federal legislation which would start to address the issue of hate crimes that the Sikh community faces. The legislation includes the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R.350) which creates
dedicated federal law enforcement offices to address domestic terrorism, the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act (H.R.6825) which offers religious nonprofits like the Sikh Center of Wisconsin federal funding for security and the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act
which would make a critical change to the text of the Stop Hate Crimes Act to remove the difficult standard of race being the sole motivation.

Additionally, we recognize that more needs to be more done to prevent gun violence. If we want to be allies, honor the victims, and help in
the healing process, we need to be actively advocating for change.
Finally, what I saw this weekend was connection. I have given many presentations on Sikhism and we talk about the oneness of humanity, the divine light inside each and every one of us and
how we are all fundamentally connected.

But what I saw clearly through the course of this weekend is that connection is not an abstract spiritual concept, it can be achieved here and now. It begins with simply being curious and open to one and other. If we are looking for a starting point in our work, this is it. While I experienced so many emotions this weekend, as I fly back to my home in Maryland, my heart remains full and the experiences of Oak Creek,
Wisconsin, forever etched in my memory.

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