Film about Sikh tragedy offers healing the past

America/9 Nov,2014  : A large crowd sat silently at Yuba City’s Sikh Temple on Tierra Buena Road. It was the Saturday during the annual Sikh Parade and Festival, and the group was watching a screening of the moving, “Waking in Oak Creek,” about the 2012 shooting and aftermath at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

“This movie shows the spirit of American inclusiveness,” Dr. Jasbir Kang said. The Yuba City resident, who had seen an earlier screening of the film, said the shooting was a tragedy, but something good came out of it.

 Movie about Sikh tragedy

“This movie is about healing the past and moving on,” Kang said.

Pardeep Kaleka, whose father Satwant Singh Kaleka was killed in the shooting, came to Yuba City and spoke.

“Sikhism is about learning and teaching,” Kaleka said.

On the day of the shooting, he was driving to the temple but had to turn around because his daughter forgot her notebook.

“I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t forgotten her notebook,” Kaleka said.

Following the attack, Arno Michaelis, a former skinhead, reached out to Kaleka.

The two teamed up to create Serve2Unite, a community group that works to combat violence with peace.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important to the human spirit than the ability to solve a problem,” said Yuba City Police Commander Lincoln Eden.

Eden was among a group of local officials who watched the film and addressed the crowd.

“This was a very moving picture,” said Sutter County Sheriff J. Paul Parker.

He said his department had hired a Sikh for the first time in the 1970s, and a Sikh was promoted to a command position in the 1980s.

Parker said people think, because Sikhs have been here for so long and this community has been inclusive, “this couldn’t happen here.”

Lonetta Riley, president of the Yuba City Unified School District board of trustees, also watched the film.

“Educating students goes beyond the classroom. It takes all of us in the community,” said Riley.

“We have to go beyond tolerance and get to understanding. Then, we can be productive members of the community.”

The 34-minute documentary was produced by Not In Our Town, an Oakland-based nonprofit that aims to stop hate crimes, address bullying and build safer communities.

“Not only do we tell stories about hate crimes, we tell people how they can stop hate crimes,” said Patrice O’Neill, Not In Our Town CEO and executive producer, who was present for the screening.

Currently, the group is filming in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer.

How community came together

“Waking in Oak Creek” opens with harrowing 911 calls from witnesses during the Oct. 5, 2012, shooting that killed six people. And it reveals the transformation of the community, rocked by the shooting, into one that’s more connected.

“I don’t know anybody personally that goes to the Sikh Temple here, but it hits close to home,” said a young woman interviewed for the film at a candlelight vigil following the attack.

“He very well could have walked into my church and done the same thing,” she added.

During that vigil, government officials, law enforcement, churches, students and others in the community came together and showed their support.

“The whole point of a candlelight vigil is that light embodies the hope that we have amongst the this darkness,” said a young Sikh man, also interviewed for the film.

Retired Lt. Brian Murphy of the Oak Creek Police Department was first on scene at the temple during the shooting and was shot multiple times.

“I confronted evil in the parking lot,” said another officer interviewed for the film. “He was looking for division and it didn’t work that way. I think it drew people closer together.”

Harpreet and Kamal Singh Saini’s mom, Paramjit Kaur, was one of the victims killed at the Oak Creek temple.

“He killed my mother as she prayed. He shot and killed five more men. All of them were fathers and all of them had a turban like me. This was not supposed to be our American dream. This was not my mother’s dream,” Harpreet Saini said during a Congressional hearing.

A month after the shooting, the Saini’s were at the hearing with numerous others organizations in a nationwide effort to raise awareness of hate crimes.

Harpreet Saini asked the committee to give his mother “the dignity of being a statistic.”

The U.S. Justice Department tracks hate crimes against specific religious groups, but at that time, Sikhs were not on the list.

Since the hearing, Sikhs and other groups were added to the list.

Source :-  Chris Kaufman  / ckaufman@appealdemocrat.com

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