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Local Pols Call for Education about Sikhs after Wisconsin Shooting

By  Tuan Nguyen and Amy Zimmer | August 7, 2012 5:42pm 

SUNNYSIDE — Local politicians and activists gathered Tuesday at Sikh temple in Queens to express "serious concern" about this weekend's shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six people and wounded four.

They called for greater education about the Sikh community to prevent Sikhs from being targets of hatred.

"We cannot pretend that this is just a one time occurrence," said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, flanked by a dozen city politicians, at Shri Guru Ravidass Temple in Sunnyside on Tuesday.

"There was a vicious attack on the New York MTA employee last year," he said. "There was a brutal murder of two Sikh American gentlemen in California. And there was the defacement of the Sikh Gurdwara in Michigan."

Crowley, whose district includes parts of Queens and the Bronx, thought these attacks "do not represent an isolated incident  — they represent a violent trend, aimed at a discreet population, that must be confronted and brought to an end."

City comptroller John Liu said that local Sikhs have been unfairly targeted following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"Here in New York we can take a lead in the country to help explain what Sikhism is about in our school," Liu said. "The Sikh community has contributed so much to Queens," Liu said, "yet [in] this past decade we have seen no group targeted as much or as viciously."

He added: "We have an opportunity to reform some of those laws and regulations that still to this date force Sikh New Yorkers to choose between having a career with New York’s finest and observing their faith."

One of the relatives of a Wisconsin shooting victim joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and members of the Sikh community on Monday, saying that he didn't believe something similar could happen in New York.

Sen. Chuck Schumer condemned the shooting as "despicable," saying, "the most un-American thing you can do, the thing that stabs to the heart of this country is to hurt, kill, maim people because of who they are, where they came from, what their beliefs are."

The NYPD increased security at Sikh temples across the city after the shooting, Kelly said Monday.

Hardev Singh, 52, president of the Sikh Center of New York at 3817 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing, told DNAinfo.com New York that the Wisconsin incident reopened old wounds from the days after 9/11, when many Americans mistook men of the Sikh faith for Muslim extremists.

"We are a peaceful people," Singh said. "This tragedy happened from 9/11. Because we have a turban and a long beard, people think we are terrorists and act on it."