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Sikh shooting in Wisconsin hits home in Queens


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Though hundreds of miles away, the shooting at a Wisconsin gurdwara struck close to home for the tens of thousands of Sikhs in Queens.

“New York and particularly southeast Queens is the center of Sikh life in the United States,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg outside the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill on Monday, August 6.

Of the at least 300,000 Sikhs in the United States, between 30,000 to 40,000 live in New York City, with the bulk residing in Queens.

Elected officials and religious leaders held two press conferences at the Sikh Cultural Society — where thousands of Sikhs congregate weekly — the day after the shooting rampage inside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin to offer condolences to the community and show support.

The shooting by Army veteran and reported white supremacist Wade Michael Page that killed six shook the Sikh community throughout the borough.

“People go for worship; they are praying to God and they get killed,” said Gurdev Singh Kang, president of the Sikh Cultural Society. “Their loved ones were home and [the victims] are not going back home.”

Following the shooting, police were dispatched to Sikh gurdwaras throughout the city to prevent any copycat crimes, though no threats were reported. Commissioner Ray Kelly said the NYPD will keep a presence at gurdwaras and continue to monitor the situation on a day-to-day basis.

Harpreet Singh Toor, who works at the Sikh Cultural Society, thanked the mayor and commissioner for assuring no new incidents took place, but said he always felt secure in the city.

“We are safe in New York City,” agreed Richmond Hill resident Devinder Singh.

Singh said that there is understanding in the city about the religion, though 9/11 introduced many problems for the community.

Post-9/11, the country experienced a large spike in hate crimes against Sikhs, said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. Incidents have slowed in recent years, with zero being reported against Sikhs in 2011 or so far in 2012 according to the NYPD, but Singh said discrimination in schools and the work place still persists.

“There have been 11 years where the predominant image of a turban and beard is that of a terrorist,” Singh said.

Religious leaders of all faiths descended on the gurdwara to stand as one with the Sikhs and try to breed understanding by all citizens.

“We stand as a community not divided, but united,” said Pastor Matthew Singh, of New Haven Ministries in Richmond Hill. “Let this be a message for those that hate, we will stand together. When you hurt one, you hurt all.”

Councilmember Mark Weprin cited education as the key to weeding out discrimination.

“If there is one possible silver lining that these people may not have died in vain it’s the idea that maybe we can educate people about Sikhism and other religions so we get to know each other better so maybe we hate a little less and maybe in the future protect another tragedy.”