WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The son of a Sikh Temple shooting victim provided emotional testimony Wednesday, September 19th during a special Congressional hearing. The hearing is part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness of hate crimes and the threat of domestic extremism.
18-year-old Harpreet Singh Saini testified Wednesday afternoon before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution -- Civil Rights and Human Rights.
A coalition of nearly 150 religious and civil rights organizations across the country requested the Senate hearing. A petition requesting the hearing also referred to 10 Islamic institutions and Muslim communities in seven states -- which have experienced attacks including vandalism, arson and more.
It also mentioned the Jewish and African-American communities having experienced persistent bias attacks as well.
Harpreet and Kamal Singh Saini's mom, Paramjit Kaur was one of six shot and killed on August 5th at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.
"He killed my mother as she prayed. He shot and killed five more men. All of them were fathers and all of them had a turban like me. This was not supposed to be our American dream. This was not my mother's dream," Harpreet Singh Saini said during Wednesday's Congressional hearing.
Harpreet Singh Saini asked the Committee to give his mother "the dignity of being a statistic." Currently, the U.S. Justice Department tracks hate crimes against specific religious groups, but Sikhs are not among them.
"We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize," Harpreet Singh Saini told the Committee.
A DOJ representative says action could be taken as soon as October.
"We have heard this concern and we are going to take action with respect to this concern," Roy Austin with the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl supported Saini's request.
"Not only will it allow law enforcement to better understand the scope of the problem, it will also allow Sikhs to report when they are victims," Kohl said.
Saini vowed to continue working as part of the solution by becoming a law enforcement officer like Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot more than 10 times while responding to the Sikh Temple that Sunday morning.
"Despite everything, I still believe in the American dream. In my mother's memory, I ask that you stand up for that dream," Harpreet Singh Saini said.
A representative from Homeland Security also testified Wednesday, saying his department was aware of Sikh Temple shooter Wade Michael Page prior to the August 5th attack, and his activity in white supremacy groups. The Homeland Security representative called Page a "peripheral figure" whose activities had not risen to a point of an open investigation.
Saini said he feels Page should have been tracked before he killed six, and critically injured three.
"The man who killed my mother was on the watch list of public interest groups. I l believe the government could have tracked him long before he killed my mother. I want to tell the gunman who took her away from me, you may been full of hate, but my mother was full of love," Saini said.
FOX6 News spoke with Harpreet Singh Saini's brother prior to Wednesday's hearing. He said the two were nervous but excited for the opportunity to raise awareness on the federal level of violence against Sikhs.
“Pretty much put a shine to what my mom was about. We just expect people to realize what kind of impact it’s had on us and not just on us, but families of other victims and the community -- not just Sikh, but Oak Creek and the nation overall. Our main goal is to let them know this is not a Sikh tragedy -- it’s an American tragedy. For people to just realize the hate crimes are going way beyond what they’re supposed to be and there shouldn’t be hate crimes at all,” Harpreet's brother, Kamal Saini said prior to Wednesday's Congressional hearing.
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