Central Jersey Mourns Wis. Shooting Victims [Video]
Hundreds of people from different faiths joined together in Lawrence Township Wednesday for a prayer service and candlelight vigil in honor of those who were killed and wounded in the Aug. 5 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Hundreds of members of the Sikh faith from throughout Central New Jersey, from Cherry Hill to Edison, turned out to the Sikh temple in Lawrence Township Wednesday evening (Aug. 8) to attend a prayer service and candlelight vigil held in honor of those who were killed and wounded in the shooting that took place at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5.
Joining the interfaith service were non-Sikh residents of Lawrence Township and neighboring communities, as well as local, state and congressional representatives.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome and thank all the fellow non-Sikh Americans who have joined us today in support and solidarity. Your presence here demonstrates that we all are part of the same American fabric,” the evening’s master of ceremonies, Raminder Bindra, told those who packed the prayer room of the Sikh Sabha of New Jersey’s gurudwara (place of worship) on Bakers Basin Road.
Members of the Sikh community and visitors of other faiths sat of the floor together cross-legged, each with his or her feet bare and head covered in accordance with the customs of the religion, during the two-hour prayer service. Many wore T-shirts – handed out at the start of the service – that displayed the word “UNITED” across the front in large letters.
At the height of the prayer service, it was estimated that between 400 and 500 people were in attendance.
During the service, the names of the six people killed in Oak Creek, Wis., in a “senseless act by a misguided youth” were read, along with personal details of their lives. Photographs of the five men and one woman, who ranged in age from 39 to 84, were shown on a large screen. This was followed by comments from many of the officials who were in attendance.
“We are united in this. Our prayers and thoughts go out to you,” Lawrence Township Mayor Jim Kownacki told those in attendance. “I’m at a loss for words because when I heard what happened it was like I lost a family member too… I feel for you. I pray for you.”
In addition to Kownacki, the Lawrence Township Council was represented at the service by Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis and Councilman Michael Powers.
“It’s so important that we’re here today in solidarity; united, as the shirts you so proudly wear today say,” Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton Township) of the state’s 14th Legislative District said.
Referring to the candlelight vigil that was to follow the prayer service, he said, “We have to remember that the light from the candle represents not only warmth but knowledge, and may our prayers that we join together here today bring joy to God, bring blessings onto those that have hate, bring warmth into their hearts, bring knowledge to them so that hate can be melted away so that we can all join united, not just in tragedy and sorrow for the lives lost and those injured…but that we can come together in joy and peace at a later time, still united.”
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Hopewell Township), of New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, echoed those sentiments, saying, “As we remember, honor and mourn those who were killed in Wisconsin, we must make clear that there is no room in the United States of America for this bias, for these hate crimes, for this violence… We non-Sikh Americans must make clear that Sikh Americans are every bit as American as we are, that they and you are as deserving of the full respect, full attention and full protection of the laws of the United States of America and of American society.
“It’s a trying time but I know the Sikh people are strong. I have visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar [India]. I know Sikhism. I know that it is a religion of dedication, of faith, of hard work, and, yes, of love. And in the United States we must work to have light drive out darkness, to have love drive out hatred,” Holt added. “We must also act. It’s not enough to have a moment of silence, to say our prayers... There are things that we must do to keep this senseless violence from reoccurring again and again... There are things we must do to help law enforcement; there are things we must do in public education; there are things we must do in mental health care; and, yes, there are things we must do in law to control weapons and other tools of violence.”
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) similarly spoke about the need to have a “national conversation” about real gun-control to end “senseless violence.”
“As we come together as a community, having seen the tragedies in Colorado and Wisconsin, it is my hope and, more importantly, my commitment to work as I have worked for years in pursuing reasonable gun-control measures because I don’t think that anyone needs an assault weapon to defend themselves or to go hunting; I don’t think anyone needs a hundred-round magazine to go hunting. These are weapons, ultimately, of killing. And I don’t understand why anyone should possess them. I don’t understand why with the click of a mouse on a computer you can unlimitedly purchase ammunition,” Menendez said.
Jaspreet Singh, an Atlanta-born human rights attorney who co-founded the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination, was the final speaker before the prayer service concluded and the candlelight vigil began outside.
“As a community we would like to deeply express our condolences to the victims of this atrocious attack, as well as their families, and give our sincere gratitude to those law enforcement officers who engaged this completely coward of a person who went into the gurudwara to attack innocent civilians,” he said. “Also I’d like to say there’s been an amazing outpouring of support [for the Sikh community]. So I really appreciate everyone who has done that and continues to do so.
“I agree in terms of there being a need for gun-control,” Singh continued. “But I would not place this as an act of senseless violence. It was a deliberate act. It was a racist act. The person who perpetrated this was affiliated with extremist groups and these are the kinds of extremist groups that we, as Sikh Americans, as well as people of other faiths, have to ask our government to monitor, and have to ask our government to stem the tide of these kinds of extremist and racist groups. Hate crimes and bias attacks happen far too often...
“There’s a serious need to change the dialogue in this country, to not judge people by the way they look but by the content of their character – as Martin Luther King once said – and by their actions,” Singh added. “There’s also a need for people to understand that there’s no place for discrimination and hate in America today. It is a far-gone concept. Discrimination based on religion, gender, race, sexual-orientation completely runs contrary to our fundamental principles. We have to embody that. And I’m so happy that I’m not only joined by my fellow Sikh Americans but by Christian Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans… There are people all around this nation who are standing against this kind of hate.”
Once the candlelight vigil was over, everyone was invited back into the gurudwara to take part in a Langar, a community meal.