Describing bullying and harassment of Sikh children as a "serious problem", the United States Department of Justice has recommended that crimes against Sikhs and Hindus should be added to the religion-based hate crimes tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help law enforcement officials tackle the problem.
Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division Tom Perez said there is "strong support" from interfaith groups for adding anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu and anti-Arab to the hate crime categories tracked by FBI's Uniform Crime Report.
Perez visited Oak Creek last week and met with members and leaders of the Gurdwara where white supremacist Wade Micheal Page had gunned down six Sikh persons and critically injured three others in August this year.
Perez said he attended a town hall meeting in Oak Creek hosted by the Justice Department where 22 diverse religious and interfaith groups discussed how religion-based hate crimes are tracked by the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.
Based on the meeting and the division's law enforcement experiences, the division and the Community Relations Service has made a recommendation that crimes against Sikhs and Hindus be added to the coding sheets that police fill out and the hate crime reports the FBI produces each year.
"We believe adding these categories would improve the data about hate crimes that helps inform our enforcement work," Perez said in a blogpost.
He said the "hate crime" committed by Page has had an "indelible impact" on the community of Oak Creek.
"It also is clear that although the gurdwara has witnessed the very worst of human kind, its members have reacted with the best of human kind -- with courage, compassion and strength," he added.
Perez noted that while the attack on the Oak Creek gurdwara was a "crime driven by hate," bullying and harassment of Sikh children also remains a serious problem.
"Schools are not permitted to turn a blind eye. The division is committed to using the federal civil rights laws to ensure that schools are providing all students with the equal educational opportunities to which they are entitled.
Bullying is not a rite of passage, and every student has the right to go to a safe and bully-free school," he said. Perez also spoke with school students encouraging them to speak out about the problems they face.
The shooting carried out by Page was "sadly" not a stand alone hate crime, he said, adding that the Justice Department would continue to combat hate crimes committed against Sikhs and Muslims wherever they occur.
"Visiting the gurdwara, the overwhelming message I took back from the congregation is one of unity -- a resolve to work together, with members of every faith to foster understanding, and to ensure that such tragic acts of violence are never repeated," he said.