By Ryan Ricks and Karen Wang
Last week, three major hate crimes occurred in the United States. Here’s a run-down of what happened and what this means for the future of America.
- Jeffersontown Grocery Store Shootings
On Wednesday, October 24, Gregory Bush shot at a Kroger, killing two African-Americans. This act of violence has been branded a hate crime, mostly due to Bush’s behavior. Shortly before the shooting, Bush had tried to enter the Jeffersontown First Baptist Church, a black church. When a witness confronted Bush after the shooting, Bush told him “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
- Pipe Bombs Sent to Major Democrats and News Organizations
Starting on Monday, October 22, several suspicious packages addressed to prominent Democrats and Democratic Party supporters were discovered. Among those targeted were George Soros, a prominent Democratic campaign donor; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; former President Barack Obama; former Vice President Joe Biden; several prominent Democratic Congressmen, such as Maxine Waters, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris; and actor Robert De Niro. A package was also found at CNN’s New York headquarters, addressed to CIA director John Brennan. In total, 13 mail bombs were sent, and the targets all had only one thing in common: they had criticized President Trump at one point or another. A suspect was later arrested in Florida on Friday, October 26.
- Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
On the morning of Saturday, October 27, a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered eleven people, wounding six others in the process. The gunman has been linked to anti-Semitic online posts and comments in the past, and according to witnesses, the gunman yelled anti-Semitic slurs such before carrying out the shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue. The gunman is facing multiple counts of murder and assault, as well as hate crime charges on the basis of faith.
So what do these events say about the state of America today?
This is perhaps the most unsafe time for minorities in America in our lifetimes. The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting has been regarded as the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. According to NBC, the person suspected of sending the pipe bombs had a list of over 100 potential targets. Racial tensions and racially-motivated altercations have only risen since the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, South Carolina.
Regarding the Jeffersontown shooting, this is sadly not a novel occurrence. Hundreds of racially motivated shootings have been happening across the country just this year, and the fact that this shooting has managed to make it on to the front pages of anything other than Jeffersontown’s local newspaper is a miracle considering how many of these events are swept under the rug by people who think these are isolated incidents.
As of now, we don’t know the exact reasons behind why the shooter did what he did, but the evidence is clear. Gregory Bush tried and failed to enter a predominantly black church. Just 10 minutes later, he is shooting 2 African-Americans in a grocery store and claiming that “whites don’t shoot whites.”
This isn’t a new American attitude. Time and time again, the United States has proven that it is a country with deep-rooted racism. These are not separate and unrelated incidents. They are only repeatedly telling us about the clear hatred in this country. Most of the time, people are able to get away with these acts because they go under-reported and unchecked.
In the case of the pipe bombs, it is more than clear that this individual was heavily motivated and inspired by incendiary rhetoric from conservatives. It is reported that the suspect’s van was covered in images and taglines directly inspired and influenced by Trump and other conservatives, including an image of Hillary Clinton’s face covered by the aiming scope of a gun and a sticker saying “CNN Sucks.”
As for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, this tragedy seems to be the latest in a growing trend of anti-Semitic crimes across America. Just this summer, the synagogue next to University High School was defaced with swastikas and other Nazi imagery. Political ads across the country target Jews such as George Soros, and anti-Semitic sentiment is becoming more and more acceptable in certain communities as our country becomes more tolerant of rhetoric that promotes an “other-ing” of political enemies, where it is always us against them.
It is important to remember that this profound hatred against Jews, against ethnic minorities, against political opponents, is not Neo-Nazism. It’s just Nazism. Trying to create a separation between present day and past events is only going to allow history to repeat itself over and over again. There is no separation; these incidents of hatred and bigotry are identical to the hatred and bigotry exhibited 50, 60, 70 years ago. Modern-day Nazism is just that––Nazism.
The undercurrent of hate behind these events have only gone to show that it is a dangerous time for so many Americans. In a world where women can be mocked and ridiculed for coming forward with sexual assault allegations, in a world where police are constantly called on black people for participating in mundane activities such as barbequing, babysitting, or entering their own apartment complex, in a world where African nations are referred to as “sh*thole countries” by the president, in a world where the transgender community’s very right to exist is constantly under threat by the White House, in a world where conspiracy theories and nativist rhetoric is widely accepted and normalized, in a world where liberals can be targeted with intent to kill, in a world where the media is called “the enemy of the people” repeatedly by the president, no one is safe.
It has become abundantly clear that many people in this country—those who call themselves nativists, members of the alt-right, or anti-establishment—have a victim complex and believe their way of life is “under attack.” And it has become even more abundantly clear that the only people doing the attacking are the same ones who feel threatened by those who are different from themselves.
This is beyond identity politics; this is creating a political narrative to incite hatred, violence, and fear in vulnerable communities. These attacks against the black community, against prominent liberals, and against Jews are all forms of domestic terrorism. We often talk about how extremist propaganda radicalizes overseas terrorists, but why do we fail to acknowledge that the same thing is happening at home?
When so many conservative media outlets spread conspiracy theories, such as claiming President Obama was secretly born in Kenya, believing that the Parkland survivors are crisis actors, or even accusing liberals of paying to have bombs mailed to them (using the placement of bumper stickers on a van as evidence), it is easy to see why there has been an increase in hateful sentiment in public life. When President Trump labels both white supremacists and counter-protestors as equally guilty in spreading violence and hatred, it is easy to see why many people feel justified in their bigotry.
So far, no meaningful action has been taken to stop this hate. Many politicians are labelling the individuals behind the attacks as madmen instead of attempting to reflect on how their words and actions impact the views and behaviors of their constituents. Just a few days after the hate crimes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the same language as Donald Trump to describe the animosity behind such heinous crimes, citing “both sides” of the aisle as guilty of using incendiary political rhetoric.
There is a lack of accountability being held here, and this kind of behavior is presenting a dark omen for America’s future. There are neo-Nazis on the ballot this year, not to mention countless xenophobes and nativists. This is not an issue between right and left; it is an issue between right and wrong. It is time for us to reflect and to decide if we are okay with where this country is headed. If not, then we need to begin finding ways to combat ignorance and hatred in our communities. But if nothing is done, we can only expect further instances of hate and bigotry in America.
If you are interested in discussing these issues further, LaMags and Thurman are planning to continue holding open dialogues on how to combat hatred in our local community.
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