Officials pay respects at Sikh Society amid increased security

August 6, 2012 2:11:45 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have expressed their condolences at the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens following Sunday's mass shooting in Wisconsin.

"No matter who you are, no matter where you're from, no matter what religion you profess, you have a right to be safe in your homes, your places of worship and streets of New York City," Mayor Bloomberg said..

One member in particular is feeling the pain more deeply. Mohan Singh Khata, overcome by emotion, had just spoken to his 70-year old uncle in Wisconsin on Saturday, only to learn the next day he was one of the six people killed.

"I feel really bad because we can never see him again," Khata said.

Many now mourn the loss, especially in Richmond Hill, home to one of the largest Sikh communities in the country. At this temple, many gathered to pray and to contemplate the violence that strikes at the heart of their faith.

"Ignorance creates the fear. Out of the fear violence takes place. So to prevent the violence you need to get rid of the ignorance. Talk or read," communications director Harpreet Toor said.

While NYPD officials say they have not learned of any credible threat of violence against the Sikh community here, they have stepped up patrols around temples.

"We are going to continue to monitor this issue. We are going to keep our presence at these locations in place and will make that determination on a daily basis," Commissioner Kelly said.

Bloomberg said Monday that the Wisconsin attack went against the spirit of New York City. He also spoke out against intolerance and "lawless violence."

He described New York and the neighborhoods around the cultural center in southeast Queens as "the center of Sikh life in the United States."

Six worshippers at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee temple were killed on Sunday. The gunman was also killed.

Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and parts of New Jersey also are increasing patrols.

While authorities say there is no evidence of any particular threat, the extra measures are being taken out of an abundance of caution.

The FBI has control of the Wisconsin investigation, but in New York, it's the NYPD providing extra security to Sikh temples shaken by the tragedy.

"We lost innocent souls," said Gurdev Singh Kang, of the Sikh Cultural Society. "The people were praying inside the temple, but we don't have update what happened, why it happened, who did it, what kind of people did it."

The temple in Richmond Hill, Queens is the largest in the city. The Sikh community around it is organizing a nationwide vigil on Saturday to mourn the victims.

In Glen Rock, New Jersey, the shock gave way to a somber ceremony, with prayers of remembrance and prayers asking for strength.

"I think the reaction of the community has been a combination of shock, grief and appreciation for the heroic efforts of the Oak Creek Police Department," Sikh Coalition executive director Sapreet Kaur said. "As well as an appreciation for the outpouring of prayers and thoughts and love from people all across the country."

According to the Sikh Coalition, there have been more than 700 bias attacks against Sikhs since September 11, 2001. And Sikhs across the country are saying this most recent shooting has increased fears of violence that have existed since the 9/11 attacks.

While police have not identified the gunman, who was killed by police, or described a possible motive for the Wisconsin shootings, several leaders of Sikh organizations nationwide say the killings have brought to the surface fears that have lingered since 9/11 when some ignorant about their beliefs began mistaking them for potential terrorists.

Filmmaker Valarie Kaur says every Sikh American today is "hurting, grieving and afraid."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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