Jersey City, USA: Children from the Sikh community clutched photographs of those slain and injured in a shooting at a Wisconsin temple last week as North Jersey residents gathered outside City Hall, holding candles in mourning for the lives that were lost.
More than 175 people stood side-by-side during a moment of silence, many raising electric candles. The silent moment followed remarks by elected officials and by several members of the Sikh community.
“For the families in Wisconsin, those were our uncles, our brothers and our sister,” said Kamaljit Kaur Kaila, a member of Sikh community. “Your grief is our grief, your tears are mirrored in our eyes, and we are a nation united mourning today.”
Amardeep Singh, a co-founder of New York-based Sikh Coalition who spent days at the temple in Oak Creek, Wis., following the shooting, gave an update on the temple and its members. He said the temple opened to its members on Thursday and to the rest of the public on Sunday. He said there is “renewed hope” in Oak Creek.
“America is not the person who did what he did on Sunday,” he reminded the audience. “America is the people who came to Oak Creek … to express their solidarity. … That is America”
As a remembrance, temple leaders decided to keep one bullet hole untouched as a memorial, Singh said.
Singh also said that a police officer, Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot after arriving at the scene, had been released from the hospital. He also gave an update on the condition of Punjab Singh, a preacher who often lead prayer in temples in Glen Rock and Jersey City. He said Punjab Singh was out of a coma and recovering although still in critical condition.
Hoboken Councilman Ravinder Bhalla read statements from Governor Christie and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
“Hatred and bigotry have no place here,” Bhalla said on Christie’s behalf. “We are all Americans regardless of color of our skin regardless of our creed. We are an American family and we are all affected by this tragedy.”
Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healey used his time at the podium to talk about the need to toughen gun regulations, saying Jersey City was at the forefront of passing such laws.
“It seems like every ten days there is some tragic, senseless, hateful and ignorant outburst of gunfire that kills innocent people all over this country,” Healy said. “And that happens because we have a patchwork of laws; each state is different. It’s a federal plague and it needs a federal cure.”
Sukhwinder Singh Kaila, president of the Sikh American Chamber of Commerce, the Iselin-based nonprofit that organized the interfaith event, said the purpose of the vigil was to remember the victims of the recent tragedy but to also show people what the Sikh religion is about.
“The main issue that Sikh community has here is that a lot of people don’t know about Sikhs and what their values are, who they are, and where they are from,” Kaila said before the gathering.
Kaila distributed white T-shirts with “We are all Sikhs” rendered in red-and-blue lettering on the front and “America stands together” on the back.
The organization chose to have the event in Jersey City because of its short commute to New York City, where many Sikhs live and work, Kaila said. Jersey City is also home to Gurudwara Nanak Naam Jaha, a Sikh temple.
The gathering is the second interfaith service to be held in North Jersey in two days to remember the victims of the fatal shooting that left six people and the gunman dead, and injured three.
On Sunday, about 200 gathered at the Sikh temple in Glen Rock for an open house where information about Sikhism was shared with attendees, who represented several religions.
On Monday night, Shama Perveen of Jersey City carried two candles as she listened to the speakers. Perveen, a Muslim, said she wanted to show support for the Sikh community.
“It’s just sad what has happened lately — a lot of shootings, the one in Colorado and Wisconsin,” she said. “We need to do something about gun control and something to help people.”