More than 600 people in Bakersfield, California, including a number of Indian-Americans, gathered Sept. 19, to watch a movie telling the story of one of the deadliest hate crimes in recent U.S. history, the Oak Creek gurdwara massacre in Wisconsin, where a white supremacist shot to death 6 members of the Sikh faith, and seriously injured a police officer Aug. 5, 2012. The screening, which was held at Dore Theater on the CSU Bakersfield campus, was attended by representatives from law enforcement agencies and community leaders. A similar event was held Sept. 14, 2016, which was attended by 500 people, according to the website of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.
“Waking in Oak Creek,” tells the story of how the community of Oak Creek responded to the tragedy and worked with law enforcement worked to overcome tragedy and stand up to hate. The film was produced in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office as part of the Not In Our Town: Working Together for Safe, Inclusive Communities Initiative. (It can be watched on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJbbw3b_ogs)
“In the aftermath of the deadly attack on the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the entire community rallied together to turn tragedy into an opportunity to unite against hate,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Phillip A. Talbert is quoted saying in a press release from his office. The community found positive and inclusive ways to commemorate the victims, which included Sikh worshippers as well as law enforcement officers, and to raise awareness about hate crimes, particularly those directed at Sikhs, Talbert noted.
“I am proud that my office could host a screening of the film that documents that community’s inspiring response to hate and facilitate a discussion about how our community can work together to prevent these crimes from happening in our district,” Talbert added. California has seen a spate of attacks on Sikhs over the last year. This despite the fact that Sikhs are among some of the earliest Indians to immigrate to the U.S. more than a hundred years ago.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office organized the event in partnership with the FBI; the Bakersfield Sikh Community; Sikh Riders of America; Islamic Shoura Council of Bakersfield; California State University Bakersfield, including the School of Social Sciences and Education, the Departments of Criminal Justice, Political Science, and Sociology, the University Police Department, and the Kegley Institute of Ethics; Bakersfield Police Department; Kern County Sheriff’s Office; and the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.
After the screening of the 33-minute film, Kirk Sheriff, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fresno, moderated a panel discussion where law enforcement officials and Sikh and Muslim community leaders offered their perspectives on identifying opportunities and strategies to collaborate in the fight against hate. The panel members were FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan, Sikh community representative Mandeep Singh Chahal, President of the Islamic Shoura Council of Bakersfield Ollie Zachary, Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin, Kern County Undersheriff Brian Wheeler, and Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green.
The panel discussion was followed by a question and answer session.