U.S. Department of Justice Reflects on Oak Creek
By Attorney General Eric Holder
This Monday, August 5th, marks the one-year anniversary of the senseless murders of six Sikh worshippers – Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh – at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, at the hands of a lone gunman. This heinous act of hatred and terror also seriously injured several other worshippers, as well as Oak Creek Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy, who was shot 12 times at close range while attempting to save others.
In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, individuals and communities of faith across the country were badly shaken. Millions were affected deeply – because we are a nation that has always cherished the right to worship and practice one’s faith in peace and liberty. The attack in Oak Creek was particularly jarring not only because of its scale, and the number of victims involved, but also because it occurred in a place of worship; of fellowship; and – above all – of peace.
One year ago, I traveled to Oak Creek to stand in solidarity – and to grieve – with a shattered community that had witnessed the worst of humanity. That day, I was inspired by the response of the Sikh community, by the outpouring of support from members of other faiths, and by the heroism of the Oak Creek Police Department officers who rushed to aid victims in the face of gunfire.
In the months since that shooting, many have asked how we should respond to mass casualty events like Oak Creek – which constitute both hate crimes and terrorist acts. Following any such incident, the process of healing will inevitably be lengthy and difficult, as the effects of the tragedy endure long after the event.
This is why, today, I’m pleased to announce that the Justice Department’s Office on Victims of Crime will offer an emergency assistance grant to the Wisconsin Department of Justice providing over $512,000 to help reimburse, and continue to pay for, mental health and trauma services for the victims and survivors of this horrific shooting. These funds are intended to assist all those affected – including family members, witnesses, first responders and the wider Oak Creek community – as they continue to rebuild their lives and keep displaying the extraordinary resiliency so many of us have come to admire.
More broadly, we also must engage in an inclusive dialogue about how we can prevent these tragedies in the future – including through the improved tracking of hate crimes reporting.
Now, the victims of Oak Creek must never be reduced to mere crime statistics. But, in order to honor their untimely losses by ensuring that justice can be done – they do need to be counted. Indeed, as Harpreet Singh Saini, who lost his mother during the Oak Creek attack, said at a Congressional hearing organized by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin last fall, “I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic.” Having accurate information allows law enforcement leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources and priorities – decisions that impact real people, and affect public safety in every neighborhood and community. Today, I am proud to report that we have taken steps to collect this information.
After a nearly year-long process, in June of 2013, the Advisory Policy Board that advises the FBI on various issues, including statistical reporting under the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, recommended that the FBI Director add a number of categories in its tracking of hate crimes – including offenses committed against Sikh, Hindu, Arab, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness and Orthodox Christian individuals. Director Mueller approved this recommendation. And – as we look toward the future – I’m confident that this change will help us better understand the law enforcement challenges we face. It will empower us to better enforce relevant laws to protect everyone in this country. And it is emblematic of our unwavering resolve to prevent and seek justice for acts of hate and terror.
As we speak, the Justice Department – through the FBI, our Civil Rights Division and our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute threats and violence directed at people because of their religion or ethnicity, and to prevent acts of discrimination against them in the workplace, schools and many other areas. Since the attacks of September 11th, the Department has investigated over 800 incidents involving violence, threats, assaults, vandalism and arson targeting Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians and those perceived to be members of these groups. The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have brought prosecutions against 60 defendants in such cases with 50 convictions to date – including, most recently, obtaining a guilty plea from a Washington state man who attacked a Sikh man in violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And the Community Relations Service is working to help communities prevent and respond to these crimes wherever they occur.
Protecting the safety and civil rights of every person in this country is, and must always remain, a top priority for all those who serve the American family. Through this work, my colleagues and I will continue to honor the memories of those lost at Oak Creek and all others who have become victims of terror and hate. And we will keep striving to uphold the uniquely American promise that has always united people of differing faiths, creeds, colors, races and ideologies: the promise of liberty and equality for all.
Featured Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons