The Lesson Of The Oak Creek Massacre: Hate Lost

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. To learn more:


By Christopher Mathias
The HuffPost (8/5/17)

OAK CREEK, Wis. — On a tragic day at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin five years ago, the doors were unlocked, as they often were. Today, visitors and congregants must buzz to get inside.

Still, all are welcome and encouraged to set up a visit to the temple, including people who aren’t Sikh. There’s a box of head coverings ― square cloths in a variety of colors and designs, including the Stars and Stripes ― for visitors to wear.

Delicious and freshly cooked food is offered immediately. On a recent July afternoon, it was a cauliflower and potato curry with paratha and rice.

“If we don’t believe in change, what good are we?” – Pardeep Kaleka

In the large prayer room, 46-year-old Justse Khalsa, a longtime member, demonstrates how to bow your head to the Guru Granth Sahib, the prayer book. He then walks to a single bullet hole in the door frame leading to the prayer room, and his eyes well up with tears as he recounts the massacre here and the friends he lost that day.

Members of the temple, or gurdwara, patched up the other bullet holes from the attack, but kept this one so they never forget, Khalsa explains. Affixed to the door frame is a small golden plaque. “We Are One,” it says. “8-5-12.”

On Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, an avowed white supremacist named Wade Michael Page approached the gurdwara with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun. He killed six people and injured four others before taking his own life.

Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, Ranjit Singh, 49, Sita Singh, 41, Paramjit Kaur, 41, and Prakash Singh, 39, all died in the shooting. It was one of the deadliest hate crimes in U.S. history. 

Saturday marks the five-year anniversary of the Oak Creek massacre, and if Page’s intent that day was to somehow sow more hatred in this small Milwaukee suburb on the coast of Lake Michigan, then his plan has backfired spectacularly.

Oak Creek has come together in remarkable ways over the last five years, and in a time of rising hate across America, the town’s stories offer some hope.

Finding Answers

Pardeep Kaleka lost his father, Satwant, in the shooting. He said it wasn’t until two months afterward that the pain really settled in ― when he realized his kids would never really know their grandfather.

“What was even harder was not having a lot of answers,” Kaleka, a broad-shouldered 41-year-old former cop who now works as a trauma therapist, told HuffPost at his Milwaukee office recently.

The shooter, after all, is dead; there is no way to ask him why.

So Kaleka wrote an email to Arno Michaelis. The well-known former neo-Nazi had been one of the founders of the Northern Hammerskins ― the same violent white supremacist group to which Page had belonged ― before leaving it in the mid-1990s. …

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