Right on the heels of a series of bomb scares motivated by political ideology, a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue has reminded the nation how easily hate crimes can be dismissed with a few consoling words on Twitter.
President Donald Trump said Saturday, according to The Boston Globe, that the shooting could have been prevented by the use of an armed guard inside the synagogue — grasping at straws to avoid confronting the obvious: the inefficiency of responding to one gun with another.
The fact that Trump immediately framed this as a gun issue rather than a hate crime is telling. He doesn’t want to admit that this is about the racial and religious hatred he has incited, instead leaning on a superficial and inaccurate way to analyze one of the deadliest attacks against the Jewish community in U.S. history.
Claiming that the Tree of Life Congregation should have had an armed guard insinuates that the synagogue is to blame for not assuming ahead of time that something like this would occur. Should all synagogues now invest in an armed guard so if they fall victim to this kind of hate crime, they themselves are not blamed?
If this had occurred at a Christian church, would Trump’s response have reflected a greater concern? Would he claim all Christian churches should have armed guards? Because this attack targeted a minority group Trump’s constituency isn’t concerned with, he feels free to hide behind a “God Bless All!” on Twitter.
Needless to say, anti-semitism isn’t something that anyone is born with. Robert Bowers, the man charged with killing at least 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, told officers after the shooting that he just “want[ed] to kill Jews,” according to the Associated Press. He picked this up somewhere, and he’s not alone in feeling bolder in expressing these beliefs.
Nearly 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded against Jewish people in the first year of Trump’s presidency, the highest level in decades. It’s no coincidence that people are feeling emboldened to act on anti-semitic beliefs and that they’re picking up the mentality that Jewish people are causing, as Bowers said, a “genocide” of their own people.
If anyone was wondering after the pipe bomb scare last week whether or not Trump’s nationalistic ideology is actually creating an unusually violent atmosphere, their wonders can now be laid to rest.
When Trump switches back and forth between encouraging violence toward persecuted communities and condemning the acts of hatred for which he is responsible, his base knows that the latter statements are dishonest. They’re the scripted words of officials on his administration, and his followers know that.
It’s on the people who excuse this kind of language to realize that Trump’s words do more than simply offend. It’s on these people to vote into power people who take steps ensuring that these crimes don’t happen in the first place, rather than offering weak condolences after the fact.
We need to build an infrastructure that takes away the need for reactive measures. Simply installing guards in public areas — places of worship, schools — might minimize casualties in the event of a mass shooting, but it is not enough to guarantee that violence won’t occur. It’s also not enough to take away the trauma from anyone who witnesses a showdown between an aggressor and a guard.
After most gun attacks, Republicans avoid talking about the need for gun control, saying it’s too early to politicize sensitive topics. But in this instance, Trump found a way to make a hate crime against the Jewish community about a need for more guns, not less. In this instance, it worked for him.
Trump said he plans on going to Pittsburgh — if he goes now, it’ll be too late. What would he do, take a few pictures? Shake the hand of the Rabbi? Condolences aren’t enough, and making this hate crime about guns as a diversion from ingrained prejudice is a disservice to a suffering community.