Washington, DC – Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, on Wednesday (July 31) deplored the vandalism that occurred at a Sikh temple in Riverside, California. Numerous reports, including one from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), indicated that unidentified individuals a couple of days earlier spray painted the word “terrorist” on the wall surrounding the temple.
“Late last night on July 29th, the Sikh Gurdwara (Sikh congregational place of worship) in Riverside, CA was vandalized in an apparent hate crime. The word ‘terrorist’ was spray painted around the complex,” said a SALDEF statement.
Referencing the Oak Creek, Wisconsin massacre in which the local Sikh community was attacked by a gunman who killed six innocent worshippers in a Sikh Gurdwara, Democrat Congressman Crowley said, “As we approach the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Oak Creek, I urge officials to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime.”
“I am deeply troubled by the events that took place on Tuesday at the Sikh Gurdwara in Riverside,” said Rep. Crowley in a statement, adding, “Enough is enough. The pattern of violence against the Sikh-American community is reprehensible and we must send a powerful message to people responsible that we will not tolerate this kind of attack against any community – whether it is in New York, California or anywhere else.”
SALDEF noted that it was in direct contact with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, the Riverside Police Department, the FBI, and the Department of Justice, urging them to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
“It is horrible to see an attack of hate on a place of worship as we reflect on the lives lost one year ago during the attack on the Oak Creek Gurdwara. Attacks and vandalism against any of the nation’s houses of worship must be condemned by all Americans. These acts strike the very foundation of religious tolerance, a fundamental freedom this country was built upon,” said SALDEF Executive Director Jasjit Singh.
Singh also called upon local and federal law enforcement agencies, “to rightfully classify this incident as a hate crime and bring the perpetrators to justice to show that hate and violence are not tolerated in our society.”
In recent years, Sikh Americans and their religious institutions have been threatened or attacked in highly publicized incidents in Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, Virginia and California. Advocacy groups believe it is likely that many other incidents have occurred but have gone unreported.
After repeated efforts by Congress members, including Rep. Crowley, the FBI Advisory Policy Board recommended that the FBI begin collecting this information, though the Bureau has not yet made a final determination.
These efforts have been supported by leading national organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Hindu American Foundation, Indian American Forum for Political Education, Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).