Terror and tragedy struck a Milwaukee suburb on Sunday as a white supremacist opened fired in a Sikh temple, killing six and critically injuring three. Worshippers reportedly hid inside closets while the killer walked through the temple, firing coldly and repeatedly. After responding to multiple 911 calls, Oak Creek police shot and killed the gunman. Thousands of Sikh temples across the world are holding vigils this week for the deceased and injured, who range in age from 39 to 84.
Since the events of 9/11, the targeting of Sikhs has been a horrific by-product of hate crimes intended for Muslim Americans. That perpetrators of such crimes mistakenly believe Sikhs to be Muslim reinforces the fact that ignorance lies at the root of racial and ethnic hate. That such acts against any group still occur in America today saddens me beyond words.
Seventy years ago, over 120,000 Japanese Americans, including my family, were rousted from our homes and sent to internment camps because we happen to “look” like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Today, Sikhs are targeted because their headdress happens to resemble turbans commonly associated with Arabs. These impulses are not disconnected; they are part of a tragic continuum in which whole groups people are viewed as the “enemy” because of how they look or act.
There are no easy answers here, and my heart aches for the families and victims and the senselessness of the killings. What I do know is this: Each of us bears a responsibility to reject hate, whatever its form, whatever its justification. A soul filled with hate can devastate a community. A nation filled with hate can devastate a people. It must start and end with each of us.
– George Takei