Monday, August 6, 2012

Shooting spurs new fears, area Sikhs say - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


By Tom Fontaine

Published: Tuesday, August 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated 48 minutes ago

The shooting at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee saddened Sikhs in Pittsburgh and renewed concern that widespread ignorance about the community places members at risk, a local temple official said Monday.

â€Å"Since 9/11, we as a community have realized that if we don’t go out and reach out to our American neighbors, they are not going to know about us,” said Chitratan Singh Sethi, who is on the executive committee of the Tri-State Sikh Cultural Society and Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara in Monroeville.

Sethi said the gurdwara, or temple, hosts students from the University of Pittsburgh, Geneva College, Penn State-DuBois and other schools several times a year. Members participate in interfaith efforts and volunteer at prisons, he said.

Authorities remain uncertain about what motivated suspect Wade Michael Page, 40, to kill six worshippers on Sunday morning in Oak Creek, Wis. He critically wounded three others, including a police officer, before police shot and killed him.

Asked whether members of the Western Pennsylvania’s Sikh community, numbering about 100 families, fear for their safety, Sethi said: â€Å"If you would have asked me this on Friday or Saturday, I would have said no. But incidents like these make us recalibrate our perceptions and show us that we need to continue to raise awareness.”

Sethi could not recall any violent incidents against Sikhs here.

â€Å"We as a community have not come across any issues specifically in the Pittsburgh area. It’s unfortunate that something like this would happen in the Midwest,” said Sethi, who lived in Oshkosh, Wis., about 100 miles north of Oak Creek, in 2005.

His â€Å"very pleasant experience” there made the violence even more shocking to him.

Sethi said the executive committee has not decided whether to boost security at the Monroeville temple on Sunday, when it plans to hold a special prayer to recognize shooting victims.

The Washington-based Sikh Coalition said more than 700 attacks have occurred against Sikhs in the United States since 9/11, which advocates blame on anti-Islamic sentiment. Sikhs are not Muslims but their beards and turbans often cause people to mistake them for Muslims, advocates say.

About 500,000 of the world’s 27 million Sikhs live in the United States. The majority live in India.

â€Å"It would be good if we as a country would endeavor to know a little bit more about this community, which has lived among us for many, many years,” said David A. Harris, a Pitt law professor whose specialties include racial profiling. â€Å"If we did know more, it’s a good bet that most of us would not make these kinds of judgments based on certain surface characteristics.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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