Opinion: Time for all to act against hate-fueled violence

Worshipers in the Sikh community gather for a candle light vigil after prayer services at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Brookfield, Wis., a day after a gunman killed six Sikh worshipers, before being shot and killed himself by police at Sikh Temple Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wis.

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Worshipers in the Sikh community gather for a candle light vigil after prayer services at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Brookfield, Wis., a day after a gunman killed six Sikh worshipers, before being shot and killed himself by police at Sikh Temple Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wis.

This year marks, among many others, two critical anniversaries. In March, we observed one year since a shooting spree killed 8 people -- most of them Asian women -- in our city. And on August 5, Sikhs in Atlanta and across the United States paused to commemorate a full decade since the 2012 attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

While the spa shootings are fresh on our city’s mind -- especially given the recent rise in hate against Asian Americans and Asian American women in particular -- many Americans don’t remember the shooting 10 years ago in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. There, a white supremacist shot 7 worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara (a place of assembly and worship) in what was, at the time, one of the deadliest attacks on a house of worship in U.S. history. Our community was left reeling as we had to process the trauma of such an attack, explain to curious Americans who we were and what we believe and find ways to demonstrate our resilience in the face of horrific violence.

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Aasees Kaur

Credit: contributed

Aasees Kaur

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Aasees Kaur

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Anti-Sikh bias was a constant in the United States well before Oak Creek; there was a surge of targeted violence, harassment, discrimination and even school bullying especially following the 9/11 attacks. But Oak Creek was also an early warning sign of increasing violent hate that would target so many different groups in America: not just the anti-Asian hate inherent in the spa shootings, but also Black Americans murdered from Charleston to Buffalo, Jewish worshippers killed in synagogues from Pittsburgh to Poway, a 2016 mosque bombing in Minnesota and members of the Latino community targeted in a mass shooting in El Paso.

All of these tragedies demand not only our collective grief, but our collective resilience -- and our collective action. Hate is getting stronger rather than weaker in our country, which is why Sikhs are choosing the 10-year anniversary of Oak Creek to call for substantive policy change that is long overdue. That work can begin with three bills in Congress.

First, to help individuals targeted by hate and bias, Congress must pass the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act so that the Department of Justice can pursue more hate crime cases. Second, to combat the white supremacy that is driving repeated mass shootings across our nation, they have to pass the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to create the tools, training and authorities to address this urgent threat. And lastly, to keep gurdwaras, synagogues, mosques, churches, and other houses of worship safe, they need to pass the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act to increase available federal funds.

These policy solutions, of course, are only a first step. It is going to take all of our families and communities working together to push back against violent hate and the powerful forces -- media, political, civil society and otherwise -- that enable it. But as we rise to this challenge, I hope that the Sikh spirit of chardi kala, or ever-rising optimism even in the face of struggle and opposition, can be a source of strength for everyone who has suffered in the face of bigotry.

From Atlanta last year to Oak Creek 10 years ago and every tragedy in between and beyond, America has mourned enough. We have gone nearly a decade with minimal substantive change to curb hate violence and inaction is clearly not the answer.

It’s time to fight harder for the society that we wish to live in -- one where no one should fear being attacked at work, in school, at the grocery store, in their house of worship, or anywhere else.

That, and nothing less, is the country in which we all deserve to live.

Aasees Kaur is a native of Atlanta with more than 10 years of experience working in civil rights and survivor advocacy. Views expressed here are her own.