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Oak Creek summit focuses on how to prevent violence

Jan. 12, 2013

Oak Creek - More than 100 people, including some who lost family members in the Aug. 5 mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, met at a school here Saturday to learn how they can prevent violence.

Much of the discussion at East Middle School focused on things anyone could do, such as taking time to personally connect with other people so they don't feel detached from their community.

"We need to start learning about each other and develop relationships. We all need to look out for each other in every way we can," said Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, a member of the Sikh temple whose uncle, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was killed in the shooting there.

The shooting at the Oak Creek temple was one of at least 62 mass shootings in the United States in the past 30 years, according to a December article in Mother Jones magazine. Most of the killers were mentally ill and obtained their guns legally, the magazine noted.

If someone has even one healthy relationship and has developed a friendship with someone who keeps them plugged into the broader community, it's unlikely they will go on a killing spree, Kaleka said.

"We need to start seeing each other as human beings," he said. "There are a lot of things that need to change, but I think the main thing is individual accountability. We all have a responsibility to each other. We all need to look out for each other in every way we can."

The centerpiece of the meeting was a discussion that included Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, Police Chief John Edwards, U.S. Attorney James Santelle, Sikh activist Pardeep Kaleka and County Executive Chris Abele.

Scaffidi, a gun owner, said people need to do a better job of storing their firearms so they don't get into the hands of the wrong individuals.

"It's a no-brainer, but it doesn't happen now. People have guns that aren't locked up, and they have ammunition stored with the gun. That is not acceptable," Scaffidi said.

Since the temple shooting, the mayor said, police have met with religious leaders to assess the security at their places of worship.

"Those are the kinds of easy things we can do now with the resources we have," he said.

Santelle said people should reach out to others from different backgrounds, including groups targeted for discrimination and harassment. "We have got to make the effort to know each other," he said.

Arno Michaelis, a Milwaukee man who founded one of the largest white supremacist groups in the country, then left the movement to work for the group Life After Hate, also was at the meeting.

Michaelis said he was grateful to be friends with people he previously would have despised.

It's been an inspiration to realize how much he has in common with them, he said.

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