Hate in America, Or, You Know, Monday

Two days prior to a gunman bursting into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where he killed eleven Jewish congregants, a Kentucky father wore an SS officer costume, accompanied by his five year old son who was dressed as Adolph Hitler in Owensboro, Kentucky’s “Trail of Treats” Halloween event.

There is so much wrong with that sentence I just typed that I don’t know what to make of it.  This is America in 2018.

What we know about the synagogue shooting is not pretty, but it is predictable.  A white man, armed with an AR-15, hopped up on anger and hate towards HAIS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stormed into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue where a bris was taking place.  He yelled “ALL JEWS MUST DIE,” as he shot into the group of worshipers.

Victims from the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.

The gunman, his hate fueled by exchanges on the social media platform, Gab, a popular site for white nationalists/supremacists and neo-Nazis who embrace “free” speech, a site which has since been disabled, left a post that alluded to his intent, “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote.

The brutal irony of this hate crime/mass shooting occurring in the hometown of Mr. Rogers is a sad analogy to where we are in this woeful moment of American culture.  Squirrel Hill is approximately 40% Jewish, home to temples, synagogues, delis, Judaica stores — a cultural center for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Roughly 500 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is Owensboro, Kentucky, the state’s 4th largest city, with a population of nearly 60K residents.  Last Thursday, the town sponsored its annual Halloween event, “Trail of Treats,” a local event where kids can dress in costume and merchants host trick or treaters.

I legit cannot bear to research if Owensboro’s “Trail of Treats” is a riff off of the Trail of Tears, but my increasingly cynical self fears it might be.  For folks not in the know, the Trail of Tears was the forced migration of tens of thousands of Native Americans from five separate tribes (Choktaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole) into Oklahoma, legalized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  It is estimated that perhaps 10K of the 50K+ Native Americans relocated died of disease, starvation, and exposure during the forced journey.  The Trail of Tears passed through the western part of Kentucky, so, yes, it is possible this is the reference of the event.

And, just to out myself as ignorant and not knowing any better, when I was a young mother, I would jokingly refer to the toys my young toddlers left around the house as my personal, “Trail of Tears.”  Yeah, not good.  Horrible, in fact.  As a child, we had never really been taught about what the Trail of Tears was and how the US government was complicit in it.  I know better now.

But I digress.

Last Thursday, a local man brought his family to the Trail of Treats in Owensboro.  He was dressed as an SS officer, with quite an authentic looking costume, I might add, and he dressed his five year old boy as a mini Adolph Hitler, complete with armband Swastika and moustache.

The mother and father were indignant when confronted by others at the event, per their follow-up Facebook posts, where they both complained about the shoddy treatment they received by some of their fellow trick-or-treaters, and tried to justify and rationalize their choice of costumes.  The father wrote:

“….we saw people dressed as murderers, devils, serial killers, blood and gore of all sorts. Nobody batted an eye. But my little boy and i, dress as historical figures, and it merits people not only making snide remarks, but approaching us and threatening my little 5 year old boy. … Yes liberalism is alive and well. And we had the displeasure of dealing with the fruits of the so called “Tolerant Left.”

And, not to be outdone by her husband, the mother commented in a series of comments, railing against Jewish people:

“The Jewish community want us all to feel sorry for them to get more money and power.  They’re the ones who control the banks and mass media and the government at large.  The truth is the media is controlled by the Zionists.  The so-called “gas chambers” were de-lousing showers.  He [Hitler] created work camps, not death camps.”  

So, yes, this is where we are at in America in 2018.  More and more, it looks like Germany of the early 1930s.  Hitler did not come to power overnight, he played a long game with surgical precision.  He leveraged hate and fear and othering that we are seeing more and more of in America.

On a side note, while researching this post, I came across a piece of information that adds depth to the deep roots and longstanding tradition of American hate.  It turns out that Owensboro, Kentucky is home to the last public hanging in America.  In 1936, on the town square, a black man was hung after being convicted for raping and murdering a white woman.  News reports document hot dog vendors, popcorn, and children in attendance.  The crowd mauled the man’s body after he died.  Whew.

Everything is connected, folks.  Hate is an enormous tapestry that weaves together a young family in Owensboro, Kentucky with a gunman in leafy Pittsburgh with a black man killed on the public square for sport.  Right now, it seems, the looms are working 24/7 and the fibers that hold our hate are coming closer together, strengthening, bonding, intensifying.

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Acknowledging the hate we live among is hard, but it is important.  We must hold out hope and engage in work so that our love will trump hate.  Read about the victims from the Tree of Life shooting HERE and share some love and kindness today in their memory.  

Two Shots: A Murderer in My Neighborhood

On Sunday morning at 10:07 am, a 73 year old man, Douglass Watts, was just returning home from walking his dog.  He was shot in the head and the assailant ran away through a nearby alley.

On Monday night around 10:20 pm, a 24 year old man, Eliyahu Moscowicz, was walking on a path at a local park.  He, too, was shot in the head at close range.  Ellie, as he was known to his friends, worked at one of the grocery stores where I shop.  He was tall and had kind eyes.

On Tuesday morning, the Chicago Police Department revealed that the same gun was used to kill both men, per ballistics reports.

On Wednesday evening, at a community meeting to address the shootings, CPD First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio stated, “We believe the individual lives in this community.  He’s somebody’s neighbor.  Somebody in this room probably knows this guy,” as reported by Jonathan Ballew in his Block Club Chicago article.

CPD Released photo of the suspect in the Rogers Park shootings.

I live two miles away from these murders, which occurred just blocks away from one another.  Some friends live a few doors down from where Mr. Watts was killed.  My husband and I know many folks in the neighborhood.

Those of us who live here have been cautioned to keep going about our daily routine, to not feel homebound, to get outside (but not  alone), to find someone to walk with, to be vigilant, to carry a whistle.

Oy, I think to myself, a whistle is not going to help in this situation.  And, right now, typing these words, I pause, wondering if the murderer might somehow see this post and target me, my kids, my home, my husband.

The random nature of these killings has me on edge.  A man is out walking his dog on a bright Sunday morning.  He is executed steps from his home.  Another man is taking an evening walk after one of the Jewish holidays.  I think about his family and how every year moving forward they will feel the weight of their loss as the high holidays near, as the days grow a bit shorter, as the air begins to cool, as the seasons turn.

I scroll through my Facebook feed and see the fear I feel mirrored in my friends’ posts.  “There seems to be a serial killer operating in my neighborhood,” wrote one.  Another shares a gofundme to raise money to bury the first victim, “We didn’t know this man, but he was our neighbor, and we are all reeling from this random act of violence in our neighborhood.”

The neighborhood boards on Facebook are full of people trying to process their fear, their worry, their concern, their terror.  Dog owners are looking for fellow dog owners to partner with for their morning and evening walks.  A black man offers to walk dogs with anyone who needs a partner, offers concern that there are stories the suspect is black and killing white victims, ends his post with #I’llwalkwithyou, pairing it with a photo of him holding his tiny dog.

Others worry that with a greater police presence and so many people and neighbors living in fear, people of color are at greater risk for others calling the police on them simply for living, working, walking in their own neighborhood.  The Alderman is sending out regular alerts, with information and updates.

There is a frantic spectrum of “This is nothing new and has always been the case in Rogers Park,” to “I love my neighborhood and my community.  Does anyone want to start a block club, or meet up for drinks tonight so we can get to know one another?”

Whew.  It’s a lot to take in.

The detail I keep coming back to, that I keep thinking about, is that the killer knows the neighborhood.  He knew where to run after he pulled the trigger that first time.  He felt comfortable enough on a Sunday morning to run through the streets and alleys after killing his first victim.  He felt emboldened enough to do it again the next day.

Last night the police released video of the suspect.  He has a distinct gait, his toes pointed out, like a duck.  Somewhere, close by, there is a man who walks like a duck and carries a gun and, when the spirit moves him, will shoot you in the head at close range.

As if 2018 wasn’t hard enough already.

14 of America’s Worst 25 Mass Shootings Have Happened Since I Became a Mother in 2005

You lose sight of these kind of things in the day-to-day, but this morning I opened up Google to research the worst mass shootings in America’s history.  You know, as one does on a Monday morning.  Two of them have happened in the past six weeks.  How’s that for sobering?

I found this list that catalogued the deadliest mass shootings in America’s modern history.  Full disclosure, I have no idea what qualifies as “modern history” or when it began.  Per the list, sometime after World War II.  Also, this list is generated by CNN, so perhaps a few of you might believe it to be fake news.  Alas, it is not.  Mass killings are now becoming commonplace. We barely have time to wrap up sending our thoughts and prayers from one carnage before another one has occurred.

Art installation done by Michael Murphy at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Art installation, “Gun Country,” done by Michael Murphy at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014.

I sat down at the computer to write about a different aspect of this new culture of mass shootings (I will save that angle for another day, and, sadly, my guess is that I will not be waiting that long) when I went to Google.  Once there, I was sickened to realize that 56% of America’s worst mass shootings have happened in the twelve years since I have been a mom.

That means that my kids have only known an America where mass shootings are commonplace.  There have been seven in my young son’s life (he is 4) and twelve in my older son’s life (he is 8).  Even my daughter’s abbreviated life of just four years logged four mass shootings.

Just six weeks ago I was careful to keep the radio turned off so the boys would not hear the news out of Las Vegas before they started their day.  This morning, I kept the news on, the voices calmly relaying the details of our new normal — traffic, weather, body count.

In my own childhood, my mother never once had to turn the radio down for a report of mass carnage caused by guns in America.  The first mass shooting in my life happened in 1982 when I was 12 years old.  I had a childhood free of mass shootings.  Today’s children, mine included, cannot say the same.

I remember hearing stories from my parents about the man at the top of the tower at the University of Texas.  He killed 18 people and wounded dozens more on a summer day in 1966.  My Mom would never fail to remark that the shooter was diagnosed with a brain tumor during his autopsy, which somehow helped a traumatized nation make sense of the shooting spree.

Seeing the information, this landscape of our “Top 25” shootings, mapped out in my tidy handwriting on a notebook beside my computer, puts America’s problem with gun violence in stark focus.  Media outlets are now categorizing things like “worst church shooting,” “worst workplace shooting,” “worst school shooting.”  It is utter madness, lunacy, one of our great national sins.

To see and acknowledge the difference between the America I grew up in and the one my boys have inherited kind of, sort of makes me want to throw up.  Part of that is because I have little to no hope that things will change.  We are simply making room for these shootings in our lives rather than doing anything to stop them.

Just last week, which marked the one month anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting, I thought to myself that it felt like the violence had happened months and months earlier, not just a few weeks prior.  I wondered why there had been no follow-up coverage of what the motivation was behind the worst rampage on American soil.  I shuddered to realize that folks had just stopped caring.

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There was an article I saw over the weekend, even before news of this latest shooting broke yesterday morning, that talked about efforts underway to educate Americans about “situational defense.”  There is a growing movement that is trying to convince us that if this is the America we live in, we should learn how to get used to it as best we can — remain vigilant in all places, know where the exits are at all times, learn to stop blood flow if someone next to you gets shot, get our children comfortable with live shooter drills.

Actually, as every other developed nation in the world demonstrates, there are ways to curtail senseless episodes of mass shootings.  Enacting common sense gun laws would require a collective American wail of, “Enough.”  We are not there.  Instead, we bicker about politics and 2A rights and libtards and snowflakes and doomsday scenarios of government tyranny.

My children deserve better.  Your children deserve better.  All children deserve better than the adults who surround them, including me and you, who have become so inured to the senseless violence that nothing changes.  I hold myself accountable.  And you.  And those elected officials bought and paid for by the NRA that represent us in DC.

Stand up.  Vote.  Demand better for your children than a country where mass shootings are as commonplace and mundane as folding laundry or grocery shopping.