Hate Crime Killing
Sunday afternoon, April 13, a 73-year-old man with a criminal background, who organized a Klu Klux Klan group in the past, shot and killed two people in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Overland Park, Kansas. Later that afternoon he shot and killed another person at Village Shalom, a senior living center. For many years the suspect had made intensely anti-Semitic remarks.
Two of the murder victims attended the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. They were a grandfather and his grandson. It was a double tragedy for one family. The other person killed attended a Catholic church, She worked as an occupational therapist with visually impaired children. She was at the senior center to see her mother.
When arrested the shooter shouted, “Heil Hitler” loudly enough that reporters were able to record his words.
Kansas City responded with ecumenical prayer services and statements of support for the Jewish community by many religious groups. High school students organized a “wear white” campaign of remembrance and a candlelight walk to support the families of the victims.
Not long before, the Klu Klux Klan organized a march in Kansas City to show their strength in numbers. Organizers predicted a turn out in the thousands. Klan members came out in tens. People showed up in the hundreds to protest the marchers. To learn more go to: http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2013/11/nazis-and-ku-klux-klan-and-aryan.html
In the past I worked for the local Jewish Family Services. I often attended meetings at the community center. I also frequently saw the murdered woman around Kansas City although I did not know her.
There is no rational explanation for the violence. Apparently the shooter was not involved in any white supremacy groups at the time of the shooting. From what I’ve read, the man led a fairly isolated life. His neighbors recall him as a loner who made bitter remarks about Jews, but who was otherwise unremarkable. On the day of the shooting he reportedly had an ordinary conversation with his ex-wife. She said he did not talk about plans to hurt anyone.
With the rest of the community, I am left feeling shocked and dissatisfied. I am unable to make any sense out of the murders. I doubt that the killer could explain his actions in terms I could relate to. Of course, I’ve known people who make racial/ethnic/religious slurs throughout my life. Often the remarks start with, “I’m no racist, but…”
Often the poisonous speech is thinly described as humor. When I Googled “racism” all of the items on the first page of results included the heading “jokes.” It seems to me that it is no longer acceptable to admit to the label of racist, but I am not convinced that underlying beliefs have changed. My grandfather made racist statements although he always declined to explain why he thought the way he did. I doubt he ever really got to know a person of color. I’ve heard truly disgusting statements by church members, people with advanced degrees and ordinary neighbors. The remarks often surprised me and left me nearly speechless. I’m concerned my silence might well have been taken as acceptance or approval. In one case when a group of roughly ten people were talking I allowed two remarks to pass before I summoned the courage to express disapproval. As I expected, my remarks were not welcomed. (And that’s putting it mildly.)
In thirty years as a psychologist, I worked with people of every imaginable ethnic background who held about every possible religious belief. A large part of my job was to empathize with my clients, i.e., imagine myself in their place with their life experiences. I have lived and worked over a number of years in places where people of my ethnicity (Caucasian) were in the minority. I’ve experienced having to be aware that I might be judged by my ethnicity when engaged in everyday activities like grocery shopping. On a few occasions I was mistreated due to my ethnicity.
I do not claim that I know what it is like to be a minority in a Caucasian society. But I have lived as a member of a minority. I suspect when racism was openly expressed it was at least easier to know who was and who was not racist. Nowadays anyone might be and very few will admit to it.
A recent Supreme Court decision makes it more difficult to bring voting discrimination cases to court. Current efforts to make voters prove they are legal citizens — also known as making voting more difficult for citizens — make me distinctly uneasy. There is no credible evidence that non-citizens vote. I don’t believe everyone who supports that idea is racist, but I feel certain racists support that idea.