Attorney general asked to help guide Kansas City area after hate-crime killings

04/16/2014 2:55 PM

04/16/2014 6:31 PM

To the Honorable Eric Holder, attorney general of the United States:

We are honored that you will address our community on Thursday morning regarding the tragic hate-crime murders on April 13 at the Jewish Community Campus and the Village Shalom in Overland Park.

Mr. Attorney General, these events have focused the attention of our community in a fashion I have not seen in my four decades in the rabbinate. The overwhelming impact of the murder of three, wonderful, accomplished, giving, religious, caring and outstanding Christians as a hate-crime against Jews cannot be overstated. Our community is dumbfounded. We need your voice.

We all understand that you will not be able to solve this problem on Thursday. Indeed, the truth is, you cannot even begin to solve the problem striking at the heart of this community. But you have the unique ability and opportunity to start us in the right direction.

Mr. Attorney General, I ask you to ask us to look at one another until we truly see one another. Nothing will be accomplished until that occurs.

Anti-Semitism occurs in our region, but it is not overwhelming. Jews are seen on a continuum between outsider and beloved friend. But few of our neighbors truly understand us or our religion, neither do they desire to. We are largely strangers to one another.

Racism provides us with our primary bigotry. A color line still exists in Kansas City along Troost Avenue.

But our racism is more subtle. It's embedded in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our dating patterns, in our hiring practices and in our interpersonal assumptions.

It's also in our guardedness in the presence of other races and when we allow ourselves the comfort of assuming a pose as though we are not racist, and then go on our merry way harboring unspoken prejudices. It's in our courts, and in our fears of others.

We see more interracial couples in Greater Kansas City than ever before, but it's still a rarity. Not much has changed in the last 30 years.

Religious superiority exists throughout our region. It is the assumption that somehow our personal religion is chosen, that our group is preferred by God, that our very being is better than our neighbors'.

The murders unexpectedly attacked this intrinsic prejudice against the other because it exposed our mutual vulnerability. But we need you, Mr. Attorney General, to point us in the right direction, to instruct us that we cannot allow these innocent and righteous people to have died in vain and that we must now assume the responsibility to truly understand our neighbors.

Had these murders occurred as a black-on-black crime east of Troost Avenue, you would not be here, and this community would not gather, even if it were called a hate-crime. You must help us to see ourselves for the people we are, or nothing will ever change, and our dead will be buried and mourned and we will go on with our lives.

There is a single villain here, a murderer, and he must be brought to justice. But I am asking you to plead with us to put on trial the assumptions that tolerated his existence among us. I believe now is the time, we have the opportunity and you are the man for the job.

Our community is confounded by grief but uncommonly willing to break down barriers to move forward together.

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