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Shipp: America is ‘at the whim of purveyors of hate’

Governor Andrew Cuomo visits with Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at the site where multiple people were stabbed while celebrating the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Monsey, Rockland County. One of the victims was the son of the rabbi.
Governor Andrew Cuomo visits with Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at the site where multiple people were stabbed while celebrating the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Monsey, Rockland County. One of the victims was the son of the rabbi. (Kevin P. Coughlin/Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Gove)

A potential Trumped-up war in the Middle East, attacks on worshippers in places that should be safe and Baltimoreans killing each other at record rates leave one wondering, as Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway did in song in the 1970s and the Black Eyed Peas did again three decades later: “Where is the love?”

Numbers lend support to a sense that like never before we are at the whim of purveyors of hate. The most recent annual FBI report on hate crimes showed a 16-year high in assaults. The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization, reports that “LGBTQ people continue to be targeted because of who they are” and that “the epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people and specifically against transgender women of color is staggering.” The Associated Press recently reported: “U.S. mass killings hit new high in 2019, most were shootings.”

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However much greater the U.S. is becoming in the minds of President Donald Trump’s true believers, it feels much less safe for those who reside in reality — especially blacks, Latinos, LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people of any race, and people identified by religion, particularly Jews and Muslims.

On the last Sunday of 2019, in White Settlement, Texas, an intruder shot to death two congregants during a church service before an armed worshiper fatally shot the killer. Because this was live-streamed, anyone with internet access could see for themselves proof again that hatred and violence respect no one and no institution is so sacred as to be unscathed.

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Just the night before that, a man brazenly crashed a gathering in Monsey, New York, where a small group of Jews was observing Hanukkah at the home of a rabbi. Wielding a knife, the attacker wounded five people, one of whom remains in a coma. This was a last straw, coming after widely publicized attacks, including the 2018 massacre of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Dec. 11 slaying of three people by men who opened fire at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, N.J.

In response, more than 10,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York on Sunday with banners proclaiming, “No Hate. No Fear.” and “We Are All Neighbors.” Politicians pledged immediate action, noting that reported hate crimes in New York City were up 20% over 2018. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would increase funding for security at religious institutions. Even before that, federal prosecutors had filed hate crime charges against the attacker.

As Jewish advocacy groups have garnered attention and immediate action from officials, discontent has risen among those who should be in solidarity. Old tropes about Jews controlling media are offered to suggest that what happens in their communities becomes a bigger deal than what happens every day in other communities under assault from violence.

Like Baltimore, where 348 homicides and nearly 800 non-fatal shootings, or what the police union calls “failed murders,” took place in 2019.

In the eyes of the law these are not necessarily hate crimes, but the law sometimes lags behind what feels real. There’s some degree of self-loathing among black and brown people who kill other black and brown people. They’ve accepted what the not-so-benign neglect by policymakers has told them about the worth of black and brown lives. While officials now float one tactic after another to sound like they have solutions to what is now the norm, questions abound. Why are guns so readily available in some parts of the city? Why are drug dealers so untouchable as they openly ply their trade along Pennsylvania Avenue?

Historically, there has definitely been no love for those parts of the city where lawlessness is allowed to prevail.

Everyone can use a self-assessment of where they stand on the bigotry scale and vow to do something about that. But then that should lead to what really matters: some kind of civic involvement to assure that more voices are heard and more solutions are considered.

While politicians are not necessarily cut out to be saviors, they can be held accountable to the will of the voters. So vote in 2020. We may not all love each other when all is said and done, but we can strive to stem the hate.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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