No Tolerance for Sikh Hate

City Officials Denounce Temple Massacre

In the wake of Sunday’s shooting massacre of six people at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee, Wis. suburb, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly met with Sikhs in Richmond Hill on Monday, Aug. 6, to offer condolences and calm fears of a similar attack locally.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown met with Sikh leaders at the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill on Monday, Aug. 6, one day after the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin which claimed the lives of six worshippers.

“No matter who you are, no matter where your from, no matter what religion you profess, you have a right to be safe in your homes, in your places of worship and on the streets of New York City,” Bloomberg said following a meeting between himself, Kelly, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and Sikh members outside the Sikh Cultural Society.

“We have no tolerance for intolerance,” the mayor added, pointing out that the 15,000 Sikhs who live in the Richmond Hill area-“the center of Sikh life in the United States,” as he described it-live in “a very close knit and hard-working community, one who’s faith urges them to practice self-discipline and good deeds toward others.”

Bloomberg and Kelly assured the public that there were no immediate threats to any Sikh temples or centers in the New York City area, but the NYPD has assigned additional patrols near them in a precautionary measure. This step is similar to the actions taken by police following the July 20 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, in which coverage was increased at movie theaters in the five boroughs which played the film.

“As we join to include the victims in our thoughts and prayers, it is fitting that we also reaffirm our commitment to do everything we can to prevent acts of gun violence,” Brown said in a statement issued by his office. “Those who commit such crimes must know that they will be held accountable. And those who seek to live and worship freely in our State and nation must know that we will be vigilant to keep them safe and secure.”

Those sentiments were echoed during a press conference held by Rep. Joseph Crowley, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and a host of other elected officials at a Tuesday, Aug. 7 press conference at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple of New York in Woodside.

“The truth is there is still a lot we don’t know about what took place this weekend,” Crowley said. “But let me tell you something that we do know: The number of attacks on Sikh Americans over the past year are a matter of very serious concern. We cannot just pretend it was just a onetime occurrence.”

The congressman noted that there have been a host of hate crimes perpetrated against Sikhs across the U.S. in recent months, including an attack on an MTA employee and a murder of a Sikh man in California. He called on the federal government to keep better track of the number of bias crimes against Sikhs in order to boost law enforcement efforts to prevent such crimes of hate and to prosecute those who commit them.

Quinn also stressed the importance of cracking down on gun violence across the city and country: “This gun violence has to end. … We are all committed to working as hard as we can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. No member of the Sikh community or any other community in America should feel that kind of pain and feel that they’re being targeted.”

Sunday’s massacre in Wisconsin took place just after 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when the shooter- identified by law enforcement agents as Wade Michael Page, 40, of Cudahy- walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.

Armed with a 9mm handgun, authorities said, Page randomly began opening fire on worshippers inside, striking and killing six of them. Two others inside the temple were injured.

Local police responded to 911 calls regarding the shooting, and one of the officers-who was assisting a victim-was shot several times by Page; the officer is expected to recover. Additional officers exchanged rounds with the gunman. After he was hit by gunfire, the FBI announced Wednesday, Page fatally shot himself.

Published reports indicated that Page previously served in the U.S. Army in the 1990s and had ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. Initially, authorities in Wisconsin had described the incident as a possible case of “domestic terrorism,” but the FBI’s Milwaukee office indicated in a press release on Sunday that “no motive has been determined at this time.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Sikhs in New York and across the country have been the subject of a host of bias attacks by vengeful and misinformed individuals who mistake them for being Muslims. Sikh men, in particular, have been targeted since they wear turbans and have long beards.

Several such bias crimes have occurred in the Times Newsweekly’s coverage area, including the 2007 assault of a Sikh student at Newtown High School in Elmhurst and the 2004 assault of a Sikh priest in Richmond Hill. Arrests were made in each of the cases, which were prosecuted by the Queens District Attorney’s office under the state’s hate crimes law.

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