Sikhs still fighting to be understood 5 years after Oak Creek temple massacre

Sikh Coalition activist Simran Jeet Singh talks with ABC News' Amna Nawaz about the challenges faced by Sikhs in America.
17:18 | 08/07/17

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Transcript for Sikhs still fighting to be understood 5 years after Oak Creek temple massacre
Hi everyone I'm on an Abbas in New York while this weekend marked five years since when is the deadliest hate crimes in US history. Five years ago a man with ties to a white supremacist group walked into a house of worship in Wisconsin. And killed six people before he himself was shot back immunity is still reeling but recovering over many here. How they are doing today and what it means for the wrath of American community. Right here today joining me in studio it's the wrenching thing with the senior religion fellow with a sick collection thank you so much for being here. You have been in touch with the folks at Oak Creek Wisconsin for those who don't call this was a sick American community that was targeted specifically for their religion. Five years ago. How are they doing today how to people there mark the anniversary. I think that he would consider doing well given the circumstances. It's it's resilient community that's something we've seen over the past Mike years. What we're seeing from them is me. Thinking seriously about the urgent issues of hate violence in our country. But also trying to find. Optimism in this current political climate so this weekend the community gathered dated worship services and in our tradition in the sick tradition we do that their singing. And so it's it's a lively sort of remembrance program is beautiful. They organized. A six K run which they've been doing every year and as a way of sort of getting people active and moving in and in the call to action. So that's a nice tradition they've had there. And and and another thing we're seeing is there have been. National day of save our projects organized but it's a collection and and what we try and do there is. Bring local communities to gather with other communities. Where people can meet six but also engage in service at the same time that's a quote that not enough people know about explain. You are in our tradition. Save use the word Siobhan means action in means. And selfless and loving service and it's a core part of who we are as people. So the idea is why don't we take this core value of safe. And use that as a way to bridge relationships with other people while also making our own communities better. Talk to you about how things have changed there if at all because I remember reading over the years every year on the anniversary we go back and remember. That horrific day everyone heard those 911 calls and we've heard some of the deet tails and they heard some of the stories. Of the people who lost loved ones at that people who survived being shot and still lived through that. On a daily basis but Elster go in detail about some of the bullet holes in about how everyone went back into that the Gordon wire act. Caught a temple if that's appropriate. And fix most of the bullet holes right packs most of them up but they left one. Tell me about that. Regular immunity I think the idea is history's important thing right in memory is important and and I don't think it does any of us any good to forget. When these sorts of things happen right we need to remember them and we need to hold them up. Moments like these the moment we start forgetting about. Instances of heat and the patterns that are present in our society that's the moment we stuff actually doing the work to make our our communities healthier right to make ourselves stronger. And so that bullet hole is a reminder to all of us. That this is real hate in our country is from discrimination is real and it's something we have to deal with urgently. An unpalatable I remember reading and actually mark with a plaque right that's right and it up like his father the Dayton and the plaque reads we are one we are one right and that's our that's our tradition Miller. The very first words in the six scripture up points to the one minutes of the universe from say it won't go the oneness of reality. And the idea there in our in our tradition is. That all people are connected through this idea and it's it's a singular humanity a singular him. And that one this week have to remember because the moment we start becoming divided. That's when things start falling apart. You mentioned hate crimes I want to play a sound bite that goes back a little bit that speaks to just that in talk about a on the back end but it's. It's something from one of the members of the community was affected with the young man actually lost his mother. In the massacre on that day without seeing year as an eighteen year old. Went before congress before a senate committee and actually testify Frey. About hate crimes and they need to track them in a particular way take a listener this SoundBite. Senators. My mother was our biggest and our biggest supporter. She was always with their for us. She always had a smile on her face. But not she's gone. Because a man who hater. Because of Stewart and his color. His religion. I just had my first day of college. And left mother wasn't there to send me off. She won't be there on my graduation. All right reading day. You'll be you ought to meet her grandchildren. I want to tell the gunman who took her away firming. You may have been full of hate. But my mother was the low low. She within American. And this could not our American dream. So there you have sound bite there from Harpring Fanny who testified just as an eighteen year old incredible on in the seeing here he lost his own mother. In that shooting but this if he talked about hate crimes a little bit before when it dig into it a little bit now but just to say that. He crimes against sick Americans in particular. Haven't been tracked. Until 2015. Moving on and that is despite the fact that smartly this community has borne the brunt. A lot of the growing Islamic phobia and dean of phobia that we've seen over the last decade plus. That's right and and frankly it's not a new phenomenon you that right six came to this country over a century ago. The first race riot targeting six specifically occurred in 1907 in Washington. So he violence targeting six is not new. And it's amazing to me that more than a century later we're still fighting to be recognized to even years to test it in hate her hate crime tracking its its remarkable. I think a lot of the sick American experience our story here. Has been. A quest to be recognized as people. Right it's it's it's a strange phenomenon when I walk around the streets when you know here in New York City. Everybody's he's mean that he might hurt and I stick out of a crowd. But they don't know who I am so it's a very strange sort of being noticed but going unnoticed at the same time it's it's very strange feeling. Why do you think that it that made you mentioned that. He could dating all the way back to 1907. Can. We've all seen the numbers now you've heard anecdotally the stories right just last year it was a man in California wind turbine ripped off and it's haircut. Those men I think we're actually convicted of hate crime and sentenced. To prison at every stories one earlier in March about another man a sick man who is targeted. Why did these things keep happening why you think it's not necessarily getting back. I think will there are few things we could point to I think religious leaders he is is a big problem here in this country. People don't know what they're neighbors our we don't know about different cultures different religions different languages. And that lack of education creature real problem because we've done develop a fear of the other. Adding another problem we're seeing in this country right now is. Our political leadership is not taking a stand against hate we're actually seeing. Our leadership fueling. The flames of hatred of seeing a phobia the anti immigrant rhetoric the anti Muslim rhetoric. It quits ferry. He puts a lot of pressure on certain communities. And people now feel emboldened to treat people as less than humans. On the basis of the right then it's so I'm filling up personally. I'm receiving far more heat. Hate speech. You know incidents are encountering a lot more of those now than I ever have before. You're seeing that just on your own your social media on your email queries that's right personally when I'm out on the streets people say things now what do people say to you. Some things that I can't repeat here but racial slurs more commonly usually. Most of the hate that I receive. He's in moments where people presume that a Muslim because of my identity. You know the fact of the matter is in modern America. Anybody who looks muscled its perceived to be dependent so what I have a turban and appeared as a set people look at me and they they treat me like I'm. Inferior or as if I'm. Threat to them and and that's an acute problem. Another group not this coalition with which you work the national campaign. Launched a one point three million dollar. Basically PR campaign right with TV ads and a number of other outreach efforts. Just to sort of educate their fellow Americans about what it means to be sick in America today. And its first effort we've seen like that right a few years ago there's nothing our organization that it's something similar. For the sick community. Do these things help first of all I mean does it all sort of help in some way and also wouldn't say about us that in 2017. There's still have to be an American community that takes out ads is to tell people hey this is who we are this is what we're back up. Right in southern suburbs I think that's what asleep half. Right ya know I think I think the spirit of it is essentially. Recognizing. Rate in our tradition we believe that people are good. And we believe that their misguided in their attacks and and so education and becomes. A solution because we can provide. But we can provide solace for those who we believe or have heavy ignorance so education's important. So I think that's the spirit behind these sorts of efforts but I think. It also speaks to the discomfort that six in this country that here we are. The world's fifth largest religion nearly thirty million practitioners of sadism around the world. And we still can't get people's attention enough so we need to raise. Millions of dollars to just put out commercials. You know that's it's it's a bizarre sort of experienced it to be and what. You mentioned it's on a phobia and answers people's lack of understanding and the fact is that for people who don't know enough about. Sick ism or Islam they often conflict the two right. I'll just this past weekend it's worth noting in Minnesota on the anniversary. Of the shooting in Wisconsin fairway is a very serious attack. Against the mosque in Minnesota riot an improvised explosive device thrown through the window there be seen a rise in those kinds of incidents as well. And I wonder how you think you know aside from. Continuing to educate people about what it means to be sick about the generations and generations of history here just in this country. How do you sort of separate the 20 how do you kind of remind people this is not that saying. Yet like a minute it's an interest in question and I think our community has been grappling with us. And Mike my question in response was does that even matter right Mike. Yes I think for many of us in this community right now we feel a need to educate people about who we are at six and and we're doing. But when it comes to these instances of hate that we experience in moments where people cius as Muslims. It doesn't matter to me as much whether they know that adds what matters to me in that moment is that we address the problem of hate at its core. So and in many instances including a few recently I happened even identified myself to say when I've been targeted in hate. Because someone whose immune to respond in those moments I. Stop and talk and explain why I think that racism is wrong. And that I think is is that step number one that we need to address as a society. And then we can start getting into that here are the differences between these communities but I think that's that's far removed from where we are in this moment. What you think the people I think a lot of carried away when someone says something so hateful and awful to your face what do you think that. It's tough it's it's it depends on context. In certain situations where where. Safety is not present you know like I usually don't say anything. But for example and in a recent incident. Somebody. Called me hustler including the word so Osama. With a few additional scriptures that but before that. And I saw Upton and talk to and then and you know. Essentially explained to him. He was he was a good bill. He was a young teenager and so I felt like I had an opportunity to talk them it's especially painful ones kids feel any responsibility. I think that they're probably just parenting act things that they heard from now ride exactly. And so it's like to Stockton you know he knew he was wrong and he knew what he was saying was wrong and so Alley there expect to be called out on exactly so is there is is very easy to just stop and say hey you know. I don't appreciate you staying and it's hurtful. And it's you know this is a different form of racism that you don't appreciate that that that you know it's not acceptable in our society. And it's fine and he apologized and we shook hands and yeah I was grade it was very it's not every not every moment has a happy and I'm. They all go to planning. But that was but that was a good moment and I think you know. In in for me in moments where dehumanization. Are the problem and believes working on the humanizing aspect right dealing in treating with other people as humans and connecting with them in all that's a solution. On that same point. On the anniversary there was an essay written and published. By. Gentlemen you lived in Oak Creek which has raised there his father. What were the victims in the shooting his father is Bob opened up saying he was shot in the head in that shooting miraculously survived. The sun. Rather than they're saying. Actually flies back and forth between his home in New Jersey and Oak Creek on a monthly basis just to check in and care for his father he wrote an essay and I want to be back to you something that he sat. Which is that six like many other religious minorities have been an Integra part of the American fabric for generations we are your colleagues. You're classmates and your neighbors not your enemies and it's such a simple. Basic line and yet so powerful because it strikes me that it's still needs to be said today. So I would think what you think about how that changes you talked about the dehumanizing. Efforts. And knowing your neighbors. How does that actually change howdy do that. A minute think it has to be done on a grass roots level where people in their own local communities are engaging with other people. I think that's where past I think because look it's not it's not going to happen on a policy level. It's not happening on a national level these changes really happened when we can act with other one another as its. I think. In moments again in moments where. We are criminalizing people based on their identities the only solution to that is really knowing people. Direct human contact Reitman studies and studies have shown to us over and over again. My own personal experiences my friends now have told me when they first met me they didn't know anybody who look like me and they were fearful. And over time they got over that because they got to know so I think that's the only way we really begin changing the way we fear one another is that we be. We connect with one. And a deeper level and okay these are just normal people. Our families are wearing something else like back happen again and here there. I think fillies everywhere around the country are worried in order in in the sick religion we we have this ideals that we don't live in fear. One of our first words in arch pictures isn't careful that we believe god is without fear and that therefore we should fearless. But in this moment that's tough it's a tough ideal to live up to do. When there is real concern. That anything could happen and you know people walking out of their house and going to work. You could be the next target of a hate crime. And it could be he could be hate speech and something that's relatively minor or it could be a murder and were seeing polls with some things happen in this country. So it's hard in this contest. Not to be constantly vigilant not to be on high alert. And when that I T is at the forefront of your consciousness or even in the back of your mind at all times. That really changes the way that you live your life in this world right we're trying to live with integrity and self respect. Without letting this heat really affect us updated level. But knowing in the backs of our minds that people on the streets he upsets as targets as enemies yeah that has that has real serious implications for us. Here's something all your work and effort makes. Continues to make it hasn't. But they weren't you think thank you for much of me think which thanks all of you for watching as well remember you go to abcnews.com. Anytime for more on this story. And many others for now I'm on an Abbas Sanofi back here again.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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