Several years ago, a Jewish friend sat over coffee and talked with me about hate. Anti-Semitic hate. The brand of hate that descended upon Overland Park Sunday afternoon.
At first, she worried that her words sounded too comfortable.
She’s distanced by several generations from the genocide of the Holocaust. She’s never been denied a job or been snubbed in a public space due to her faith. She’s never been called a slur.
And yet, by being Jewish, she faces a real threat. It’s a menacing fear that dares her to discount it.
That fear filled our community Sunday afternoon. It was unleashed by the bullets that killed three people, flew toward two others and terrorized far more. The fact that two of the victims were United Methodist, not Jewish says much about how entwined all communities of faith are today, which is a positive thing.
There are many questions we can’t answer yet, the most burning being the full motivation of the man police detained as a shooter, although he is known for his hate-filled diatribes. We’ll know in time.
Did he choose the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom senior center as victims because they are associated with Judaism, as seems likely? Was Adolf Hitler’s upcoming birthday this month relevant? Was the beginning of Passover at dusk Monday evening in his deranged mind?
But television cameras filmed the man shouting “Heil Hitler” as he sat handcuffed in a police car. Those words carry the power of history.
Overland Park Chief of Police John Douglass acknowledged that the two locations of the shootings immediately tripped extra protection for synagogues and other places of faith.
It has to be that way in America. Anti-Semitic hatred is real and active.
And yet, some people try to dismiss it. They claim that because many people of the Jewish community tend to be middle class and well-educated, they deserve no special recognition. They argue against the necessity of hate crime laws.
For good reason, there are high legal standards to filing such cases. But what is often misunderstood is why such laws exist.
The reason is on full display in the Kansas City metro now.
Hate crimes terrorize more than just the initial victims. The mere fact that two Jewish-affiliated places were the sites of violence provoked a rational fear in our Jewish community. Hate crimes by definition target more than just the most readily apparent victims. They have broad reach. That is their power.
But it can be countered. Last fall, people of all faiths — and even those who do not believe in an almighty — formed a united shield against a group intent on spreading a similar brand of anti-Semitism. A group of neo-Nazis wanted to meet here. Legally, there was little that could be done to stop them.
But Kansas City sent a strong message that such vile anti-Semitic/racist fools were not welcome here.
Kansas City’s Jewish community played a strong role in the counter rally. It has long extended itself to stand by others. The Jewish campus where the first victim died is a center of life for all of southern Overland Park and for neighborhoods far beyond. It’s why the Center was filled with activity when the man began shooting.
Our Jewish community is not an isolated one. A gunman who drives to a place labeled as Jewish by its name will encounter people of all faiths.
Yes, some people will be targeted by the criminally hateful. But their sense of safety can be protected by the many. And that is what Kansas City will display in coming days.