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FBI Approves Tracking Hate Crimes Against Sikhs
Justice Department Gives Grant for Oak Creek Recovery Services

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, August 02, 2013 | 07:13 pm

Vigil in Washington, following the August 2012 Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara shooting.

Photo Source: Sikh News Network

Nearing the anniversary of the Oak Creek gurdwara shooting, the Justice Department announced that it has granted about $512,000 to help pay for victim-recovery services, and that the FBI has approved its policy board’s recommendation to track hate crimes against Sikhs.

“In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, individuals and communities of faith across the country were badly shaken,” Attorney General Eric Holder said today in a news release. “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.”

Holder announced an emergency assistance grant of more than $512,000 to help reimburse mental health and trauma services for the victims of the shooting. But the federal money also covers costs such as a security system for the gurdwara that was installed months after the shooting, extra expenses incurred by the police department, and for the anniversary commemoration activities at the gurdwara, said Jill Karofsky, executive director of the Office of Crime Victims Services at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The grant is intended to help with the costs of the immediate aftermath of an incident, Karofsky said. In this case, it will cover expenses since the shooting on Aug. 5, 2012.

“One of the things that most of us were concerned about was the trauma of children who were there, the victims and witnesses,” Karofsky told SikhNN by phone. They immediately received mental health services. “Some of the kids art still getting help.”

Adults also received emotional recovery services, she said. The sangat is so big, many people were impacted.

In addition to the federal grant, the state also offers victims up with up to $40,000 in recovery expenses, she said. Employees of the Crime Victims Services went to the gurdwara to help victims fill forms.

“It never is enough,” Karofsky added. “Sadly enough, we do the best we can with what we have. There is more need than available resource. (But) the money that we got, which went to victims, went a long way in helping them very much. It did not cover every penny but it went long way to help heal.”

Victims included family members, witnesses, first responders and the wider Oak Creek community, the news release stated.

“Now, the victims of Oak Creek must never be reduced to mere crime statistics,” Holder stated. “But, in order to honor their untimely losses by ensuring that justice can be done – they do need to be counted.”

Holder also announced that FBI Director Robert Mueller today approved the bureau’s policy board’s June recommendation to track hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Christians.

“As part of the Uniform Crime Report the new categories will go into effect in January 2015,” said Dena Iverson, spokeswoman for the justice department.

Sikh advocacy groups, particularly the Sikh Coalition, had lobbied for a long time to have the FBI track hate crimes against Sikhs. In the spring of 2012, nearly 100 members of Congress also wrote a letter to the FBI Policy Advisory Board requesting that the bureau begin tracking the number of violent crimes committed against minority groups, said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Fremont, California-12), in today’s news release.

When Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, went on a shooting rampage at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, killing six members of the sangat and wounding a police officer, the need for tracking hate crimes had a clear urgency.

Holder called the shooting an example of “crimes motivated by hatred” in his Aug. 10, 2012, speech from Oak Creek.

More than 150 organizations, led by the coalition, requested a hearing in a joint letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 21. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), the assistant majority leader and chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, set the hearing for Sept. 19, 2012.

In a poignant moment during the hearing, Harpreet Singh Saini, then 18, whose mother, Paramjit Kaur, was killed at the gurdwara, testified: “Senators, I came here to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

His older brother, Kamaljit, sat behind him in tears as he listened to the testimony.

Congress members again sent a letter to the FBI’s policy board in March. The policy advisory board recommended in June that the FBI collect data on hate crimes against Sikhs and other religious minorities.

“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,” Holder said in the prepared statement. “Today, I am proud to report that we have taken steps to collect this information.”

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