The following post appears courtesy of Tom Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Last week, I had the great honor of visiting the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wis., where I met with leaders of the gurdwara and the families who worship there. It is clear that the hate crime committed on Aug. 5, 2012, when six beloved people were murdered and others injured as they worshipped in the gurdwara, has had an indelible impact on the community of Oak Creek, and far beyond.
Yet it also is clear that although the gurdwara has witnessed the very worst of human kind, its members have reacted with the best of human kind -- with courage, compassion and strength.
At a memorial service for the victims of the mass shooting in August, Attorney General Eric Holder said:
“Although we have been brought together by an unspeakable tragedy, we are bound together by far more. We are united . . . not only by a shared sense of loss, but also by a common belief in the healing power of faith, and in the universal principles that are glorified in our nation’s churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, and other houses of worship; but also by the principles of compassion, kindness, tolerance, inclusion, and love.”
Visiting the gurdwara, the overwhelming message I took back from the congregation is one of unity – a resolve to work together, with members of every faith to foster understanding, and to ensure that such tragic acts of violence are never repeated.
The attack on the Oak Creek gurdwara was a crime driven by hate. Sadly this hate crime does not stand alone, and the Justice Department will continue to combat hate crimes committed against Sikhs and Muslims wherever they occur. For example, last year the Civil Rights Division prosecuted and convicted a man who attacked a Sikh student in Texas because of his turban and beard, and we are currently prosecuting several arson and bomb threat cases against houses of worship.
I attended a town hall meeting hosted by the Justice Department where 22 diverse religious and interfaith groups came together at to discuss how religion-based hate crimes are tracked by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. There was strong support from these groups for adding anti-Sikh and anti-Hindu, as well as anti-Arab, to the hate crime categories tracked by the Uniform Crime Report. Based on this meeting and the division’s own law enforcement experiences, the division and the Community Relations Service made arecommendation that these categories be added, both to the coding sheets that police fill out and the hate crime reports the FBI produces each year. We believe adding these categories would improve the data about hate crimes that helps inform our enforcement work.
Finally, bullying and harassment of Sikh children remains a serious problem, and schools are not permitted to turn a blind eye: the Division is committed to using the federal civil rights laws to ensure that schools are providing all students with the equal educational opportunities to which they are entitled. I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with students at the East Oak Creek Middle School during my visit, where I shared the stories of other students the Division has helped and asked the students to speak out about the problems they are facing. Bullying is not a rite of passage, and every student has the right to go to a safe and bully-free school.
We recently marked the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru. In light of the unspeakable violence directed against the Sikh congregation in Oak Creek, President Obama asked that we celebrate the anniversary by “recommit[ting] ourselves to the spirit of pluralism, equality and compassion that define both the Sikh community and our nation.” The Division has the great honor of joining the President and the Attorney General, and all people of good will, in this effort as we continue to enforce laws that move us toward a more tolerant, peaceful, and just society.
Learn more about the Division’s efforts to confront discrimination post-9/11 by downloading our Post-9/11 Civil Rights Summit Report (pdf). For more information about the Division’s hate crime prosecutions, download Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin’s September testimony (pdf), or visit http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/crm/matthewshepard.php.