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Sikh Says No Room For Hate, A Year After Temple Shooting


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. You might have caught some preseason football action over the weekend. Football season is almost here, which means it's also time to think again about how to make the game safer. We'll tell you about a new independent study about whether efforts to cut down on serious injuries, especially brain injuries, is achieving any results. That's coming up later.

First, though, we want to take you back to a tragic story from last year. A year ago today, a gunman killed six people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin before being wounded by authorities and turning the gun on himself. The shooter was a man named Wade Michael Page who had links to neo-Nazi groups. Authorities believe the shooting was a hate crime. As in other tragedies, we find ourselves wondering not just why it happened, though, but how people are trying to recover from events like this. So we've called Mandeep Kaur. She's a youth leader and member of the executive board of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin. She was actually on her way to the temple when the first shots started, and she's here to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

MANDEEP KAUR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And I want to say, of course, I'm sorry for everything that happened. It seems like such a small question, but how are you and how are your neighbors?

KAUR: I think we're still in the healing process. Today will mark the one-year anniversary, and I think this will be a closure for a lot of us. Obviously, it's not something that we'll ever forget, but it's something that we got to put behind us and start moving forward.

MARTIN: So forgive me for taking you back to that day, but I did want to ask you how you heard about it. I understand that a friend called you, who was already at the temple, and said don't come. You actually didn't believe it at first.

KAUR: Right. I was actually walking right out my door. I was heading to the temple - and I live, literally, two minutes away from the temple - and I got a call that there's shots taking place, that don't come to the temple. And, obviously, I didn't believe it. I headed to the temple anyways. And by the time I got to the temple, the authorities were already on site and they already had it closed off.

MARTIN: I understand that your father's friend who was there actually witnessed this. May I ask how he's doing?

KAUR: He's still recovering. When you see something like that - especially the way they were exited out of the building, they saw all the bodies. And being the close-knot community that we are, we know each other very well. So as they exited out of the building, they saw all the bodies. So I don't know if you could really ever forget those images. So he's in the process of recovering, but he's still - when he hears gunshots, whether on TV or even hearing balloons popping - still is a little fragile.

MARTIN: How have you, as a community, tried to understand this? To the degree that you could ever understand it, what have you tried to think about when you think about this?

KAUR: I think, as a community, we've turned to our religion. The simple teachings of our religion is what moved us forward from the day that it happened up until now. Even this weekend, it was around Chardi Kala, you know, and accepting God's will. So I think, for the most part, that's how the healing started.

MARTIN: Speaking of the religion, though, to come to understand that you were targeted - that the temple was targeted because it is a religious place that people use who are of your religion. I mean, that you were, in essence, targeted for being who you are, for what you believe.

KAUR: Right.

MARTIN: How do you come to think about that?

KAUR: I think, for the most part, we didn't take it as we were targeted. I think anybody that didn't look like him, that didn't dress like him would've been a target. So it wasn't just the Sikh temple of Wisconsin or the Sikh's in general. I think he would've targeted anybody that didn't look like him. In his mind, anybody that didn't look like him, didn't speak like him, didn't dress like him was not an American or somebody that shouldn't be in America.

MARTIN: It was reported at the time that he believed that the temple was a Muslim temple. I don't know whether any other information turns out to be true. I mean, but how do you think about something like that?

KAUR: Well, a lot of people - initially, a lot of people reacted in many different ways. There was a lot of different headlines that took place, but there was no clear evidence that he targeted the Sikh temple of Wisconsin because we were mistaken by Muslims or any other religion. So we would like to move forward thinking that anybody that didn't look like him would've been a target, that he didn't just targeted the Sikhs or he wouldn't have just targeted the Muslims.

MARTIN: Does something like this make you feel like the other? I mean, you are making the point that you feel that he targeted you - the community feels - and I think the authorities feel, and investigations suggest, that he targeted the temple just because anybody who was not like him, he figured was wrong and was the other.

KAUR: Correct.

MARTIN: Does something like this make you feel like you're the other, that you don't fit in or that you are somehow - you are conspicuous or not fully accepted because of your religion or because of your beliefs or because of your attire? Many people may know that many Sikh men, you know, do traditionally wear turbans...

KAUR: Right. Correct.

MARTIN: ...As part of their practice.

KAUR: Correct. Do I feel that?


KAUR: Maybe a year ago, I did. The day that it happened there was, you know, a lot of different emotions running through me and a lot of different emotions running through, you know, everybody. But after this weekend, do I feel that? Absolutely not. This weekend has showed us that we're always going to have those one-offs that, you know, think a different way or act a different way, but the larger community, the Old Creek community, the, you know, the United States, in general, has come through for us in ways that we couldn't even imagined.

MARTIN: Like what?

KAUR: Well, this weekend we had - you know, starting with the ceremony that took place at the courthouse. You know, that was absolutely amazing. I don't think I have words to thank the authorities that put that together. And then from there, this Saturday we had the 6K, and that itself was truly amazing. We had over 2,000 people there and more than a thousand registered runners. And I'm not sure if you saw the clips on that, but that was, you know, that was heartfelt. People from all different religions, all different colors, from around the nation showed up to that event. So that...

MARTIN: So you're feeling the support now and not just the pain?

KAUR: Right. Right. Right. Truly, this is truly the healing process.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, is there something that you feel others can learn from the experience that you all have had, even, you know, facing something that you wish certainly - no one would wish this on anyone, no one would wish this would have ever happened - but now that it has happened, is there something that you could point us to that other people can learn from the experience of your community in facing something like this?

KAUR: As I got home last night, I actually got the chance to watch the news, and over and over, the message that I heard, that the love - the love that the community shows is what's conquering the hate. So I think that is the message, that if you conquer hate with love, that, you know we don't leave any room for the hate. And planning this event and going through the weekend, I didn't - that didn't click and I wasn't thinking of it that way. I was more of just thinking about bringing the community together. But hearing it over and over, that's what I think the people are sensing - the love.

MARTIN: Mandeep Kaur is a youth leader and member of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin. We are marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the temple where seven people died, including the gunman. Mandeep Kaur joined us from NPR member station WUWM in Milwaukee. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and my very best wishes - all of our very best wishes to you, to your family and to other members of the community.

KAUR: Thank you for having us. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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