Stockton Sikhs Partner With DOJ For Waking in Oak Creek Special Screening Film commemorating Wisconsin gurdwara shootings draws tears, applause from a crowd of students, Sikhs, and community leaders at University of the Pacific
Stockton, CA: “Hate doesnt discriminate, but love conquers all hate,” concluded Bhajan Singh in a panel discussion after a special screening of Waking in Oak Creek hosted at University of the Pacifics Janet Leigh Theatre on Wednesday night.
A diverse audience turned out to view the film, which drew tears and applause as it documented the transformation of Oak Creek, Wisconsin after an August 2012 shooting by a white supremacist claimed the lives of six Sikhs. Local Sikh families filled the theatre, rubbing shoulders with students and members of local and federal law-enforcement agencies. As the audience dried their eyes at the conclusion of the film, panelists including United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner engaged in a short discussion and fielded questions.
In response to one viewers question about how to prevent similar hate-crimes, Wagner said, ”There are always going to be hate-filled people out there.” One interesting moment in the film was when the former white supremacist talked about how he changed his beliefs when people reached out to him with acts of kindness even though they were people he disliked. Referring to the AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, he explained that many people who commit racial hate-crimes desire to spark a race-war. “What people dont expect,” he said, ”is the kind of unity that results.”
What is Diversity?
”From the Black Lives Matter movement, the sufferings of Native Americans, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, the 9/11 attacks, and now the Oak Creek Gurdwara shooting, we have learned that all life is equally precious,” said Bhajan Singh, Public Relations Officer for Stockton Gurdwara. Asked how to react after such incidents, he responded, ”When we react to shootings and hate crimes, I think what is missing is consistency. What is diversity and why does it matter needs to be household table-talk.”
FBI Special Agent Robert Tripp stated: ”Hate crime is the FBIs number one civil rights priority.” Noting their ability to prevent crimes is limited because they cannot investigate beliefs, but only suspicious behaviors, he emphasized the need for building strong and united communities as the best prevention. Audience members agreed as Wagner pointed out: A lot of hatred comes from misunderstanding and misunderstanding comes from ignorance. Discussing the duties of law-enforcement, San Joaquin County District Assistant District Attorney Ronald Freitas said, We are bound by the Constitution that all men and women are created equal.
Hosted by Community Leaders
The panel included Bhajan Singh (Public Relations Officer for Stockton Gurdwara), Benjamin Wagner (US Attorney), Eric Jones (Stockton Police Chief), Robert Tripp (FBI Special Agent), and Ronald Freitas (San Joaquin County Assistant District Attorney). Other leaders from Stockton Gurdwara, the oldest Sikh-American institution, who attended included President Racinder Singh, Daljit Singh, Manjit Brar, and former president Manjit Singh Uppal. The American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce was represented by Mike Boparai.
Concluding the night with a meal hosted by the university’s Dean of Religious Life, Joel Lohr, the audience departed with the words of Pardeep Kaleka, eldest son of Oak Creek victim Satwant Singh Kaleka, echoing in their ears: ”As you leave today, be awake.”
Waking in Oak Creek is a documentary produced by Not In Our Town and the U.S. Departments of Justice COPS Office. It depicts how, as the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin prepares for Sunday prayers, a deadly hate attack shatters their lives, but not their resilience. After six worshipers are killed by a white supremacist, the local community finds inspiration in the Sikh tradition of forgiveness and faith. Lieutenant Murphy, shot 15 times in the attack, joins the mayor and police chief as they forge new bonds with the Sikh community. Young temple members, still grieving, emerge as leaders in the quest to end the violence. In the year following the tragedy, thousands gather for vigils and community events to honor the victims and seek connection. Together, a community rocked by hate is awakened and transformed by the Sikh spirit of relentless optimism.