At the historic Senate hearing on Wednesday, September 19th, a young man whose mother was brutally murdered by a white supremacist 45 days earlier found the courage to come before Congress and call for an end hate – not just against Sikhs but against all Americans.
And he wasn't alone. People of every color, faith, gender and orientation were behind Harpreet Saini, wiping away tears as he spoke. He was the first Sikh to testify before the Senate on civil rights. Four hundred packed the hearing room; thousands more who took action online and sent in prayers were there in spirit.
Thank you for standing with Harpreet and the victims of Oak Creek, for transforming a tragedy into a catalyst for action. The petitions, the donations, the social media shares, the national attention, the historic Senate hearing …
We did this together. Together, we are sparking national action to combat hate and call in love and respect. Together, we are helping change the course of history.
Harpreet asked the government to give his mother the dignity of at least being counted on a federal form.
The FBI currently doesn't track hate crimes against Sikhs, as it does for many other groups. The Sikh identity of Harpreet's mother and the five others killed in Oak Creek will not appear as a statistic in the FBI’s reports. How can we effectively respond to a problem we're not measuring? This is our chance to advocate for real policy changes to combat hate in America.
At the press conference after the Senate hearing, I announced that 4,000 people had already signed the petition, including the Police Chief of Oak Creek John Edwards.
In September, Chief Edwards invited me into his office and showed me the FBI Hate Crime Incident Report sitting on his desk, still blank. "There is no box for me to record the 6 homicides at the Sikh gurdwara," he said. "How can we combat a problem we're not measuring?"
Because of our action together, and the work of our partners all over the country, the Justice Department promised to explore whether the FBI should track anti-Sikh hate crimes in mid-October.
This is living proof: when we the people find bold new ways to call for love and respect, not just in the halls of power but in our schools, houses of worship, and communities, we can be heard. And when our government responds, we can build an America fully committed to civil liberties.
Because I dream of a day when we see a turbaned Sikh on the street and think – not "foreigner" or "terrorist" but "American." That will be the day that all people, in all our diversity, are truly embraced in America.
We long for that day. We fight for that day. And I believe working together in the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala, everlasting hope and optimism, we will see that day.
PS: Thank you to our partners at the Sikh Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), and more than 150 organizations who made this historic Senate hearing possible. We are proud to work along your side.
We commend the four sons who came to the hearing to represent all the families who lost loved ones in Oak Creek (pictured below, left to right): Kanwardeep Kaleka, Harpreet Saini, Kamal Saini, and Amardeep Kaleka.
The packed Senate hearing
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