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updated: 8/2/2013 5:49 PM

U.S. to track crimes against Sikhs, six other groups

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  • Associated Press/Aug. 5, 2012Mourners take part in a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Milwaukee-area Sikh temple in Milwaukee.

      Associated Press/Aug. 5, 2012Mourners take part in a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Milwaukee-area Sikh temple in Milwaukee.

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department will begin keeping numbers on hate crimes committed against Sikhs and six other groups, in connection with Monday's one-year anniversary of the killing of six Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wis.

Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement Friday in a blog post, which The Associated Press obtained ahead of its official release. Holder said FBI Director Robert Mueller had approved a recommendation from the agency's advisory policy board to track hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Orthodox Christians.

"Having accurate information allows law enforcement leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources and priorities -- decisions that impact real people, and affect public safety in every neighborhood and community," Holder wrote in the blog post. "Today, I am proud to report that we have taken steps to collect this information."

The addition had long been sought by members of the Sikh community.

Holder also announced a $500,000 grant for mental health and trauma services to those affected by the Oak Creek shooting, including survivors and family members.

A year ago Monday, a gunman with ties to white supremacist groups, walked into the Milwaukee-area Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and opened fire. He killed six priests and worshippers and wounded five others, and then fatally shot himself after he was wounded in the parking lot by a police sniper. Holder on Friday called the attack a "heinous act of hatred and terror."

Pardeep Kaleka, son of former temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died in the massacre, said he appreciated anything that can draw attention to people being victimized for things like their race, religion or gender.

"Progress is sort of a climb, and it takes a step at a time. This is one of those steps toward progress," he said.

Amardeep Singh, program director of the Sikh Coalition, said that while he welcomed the announcement as a "critical first step," the underlying conditions that caused the killings remain.

"The last year has once again seen violent shootings and beatings of Sikhs throughout the country," he said. "It will take more than tracking hate crime statistics to stem the tide."

Holder wrote that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Justice Department has investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, assaults, vandalism and arson targeting Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians and those perceived to be members of these groups.

Federal officials in Milwaukee held a remembrance Friday for the local Sikh community, where U.S. Attorney James Santelle read Holder's announcement of the new policy. The event drew several hundred people, including the six victims' families, temple members and Wisconsin's senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin.

Temple officials introduced the victims' relatives, who lit candles in memory of their loved ones. Dr. Kulwant Dhaliwal, the temple president, said his community was grateful for the chance to raise awareness of Sikh values and honor those who lost their lives.

Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi told the audience he refused to let last year's rampage be his city's lasting legacy. When the nation thinks of Oak Creek, he said, it should be as a city of compassion and resilience, not as a town targeted by a hateful individual.

Baldwin said she was inspired by way the Sikhs reacted in the shooting's aftermath -- with gentleness and peace, not with calls for vengeance.

"You've reminded us of the American values that hold us together as one community," she said. "You've reminded us of the values that define us as one people."

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