Map of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh
Map of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh

This is hor­ri­ble:

Mul­ti­ple peo­ple are dead and sev­er­al wound­ed — includ­ing four police offi­cers — after a mass shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion in Pittsburgh’s Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood Sat­ur­day morning.

The shoot­er is in cus­tody, Pitts­burgh Police report.

Gun­fire erupt­ed as a ser­vice was get­ting under­way dur­ing a baby-nam­ing ceremony.

“It sound­ed like a loud crash in the hall­way,” said Stephen Weiss of Squir­rel Hill, who was in Tree of Life ser­vices Sat­ur­day morn­ing. Ser­vices were sched­uled from 9:45 a.m. to noon.

As Mr. Weiss was run­ning through the build­ing, he heard loud, repeat­ed gun­fire that he said sound­ed like an auto­mat­ic weapon. He ran to the base­ment and found the con­gre­ga­tion hold­ing ser­vices there shel­ter­ing in place. He then went back up to the main chapel and left the build­ing, he said.

Author­i­ties have the shoot­er in custody.

He is said to be forty-six year old Robert Bow­ers. The Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette report­ed that an indi­vid­ual going by that name had threat­ened to attack the syn­a­gogue on the right wing social media plat­form Gab.

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our peo­ple. I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Bow­ers’ post­ing said.

The post­ing was dat­ed this morning.

HIAS, orig­i­nal­ly the Hebrew Immi­grant Aid Soci­ety, is a non­par­ti­san, 501(c)(3) refugee pro­tec­tion orga­ni­za­tion based in Sil­ver Spring, Mary­land. HIAS was found­ed in 1881 and nowa­days is known by its acronym. It does not engage in elec­tion­eer­ing activ­i­ties. HIAS has a long his­to­ry of sup­port­ing and advo­cat­ing for refugees; it has helped reset­tle more than 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple since its inception.

Each year, HIAS orga­nizes an event called the Nation­al Refugee Shab­bat. It is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for par­tic­i­pat­ing Jew­ish con­gre­ga­tions to cre­ate a Shab­bat expe­ri­ence ded­i­cat­ed to refugees. This year’s event took place last weekend.

HIAS has a web page explain­ing what it is all about:

Nation­al Refugee Shab­bat 2018, on Octo­ber 19-20, 2018, is a moment for con­gre­ga­tions, orga­ni­za­tions, and indi­vid­u­als around the coun­try to cre­ate a Shab­bat expe­ri­ence ded­i­cat­ed to refugees.

The par­sha (Torah por­tion) for this shab­bat is Lech Lecha, which describes the begin­ning of the expe­ri­ence of wan­der­ing in search of free­dom for the Jew­ish peo­ple. This makes it a par­tic­u­lar­ly mean­ing­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to deep­en our under­stand­ing of today’s glob­al refugee cri­sis, con­nect with the Jew­ish move­ment for refugees, com­mit (or recom­mit) to tak­ing action, and either cel­e­brate your community’s achieve­ments in work­ing with refugees or launch new efforts.

The fre­quen­cy with which right wing extrem­ists like Bow­ers and MAG­A­Bomber Cesar Say­oc are resort­ing to acts of vio­lence and ter­ror is frightening.

No doubt we’re going to hear some Repub­li­can pun­dits say today “don’t politi­cize this tragedy”, like they always do. They can go take a refresh­ing swim in a lake. This tragedy hap­pened because of our messed-up pol­i­tics. It’s already polit­i­cal. And it would be wrong of us not to talk about that.

As I said yes­ter­day, the Repub­li­can Par­ty and Don­ald Trump must answer for this epi­dem­ic of vio­lence. Trump has per­son­al­ly incit­ed and encour­aged vio­lence on many occa­sions, and his Repub­li­can enablers have done noth­ing to rein him in. Quite the oppo­site. Trump’s hate filled ral­lies — which he holds fre­quent­ly — are an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the likes of Say­oc and Bow­ers to become fur­ther radicalized.

The Hater-in-Chief, of course, does­n’t want to own his role. That’s because he wants to go on hold­ing hate-filled ral­lies and say­ing hate­ful things.

And so, he makes non­sen­si­cal state­ments like this:

“It’s a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble thing what’s going on with hate in our coun­try, frankly, and all over the world. And some­thing has to be done.”

It is def­i­nite­ly in your pow­er to do some­thing, Don­ald: you can repent from your evil ways. You can stop hold­ing hate-filled ral­lies that empow­er racists and white suprema­cists, and you can delete your Twit­ter account. You can announce that you don’t want peo­ple like Bow­ers or Say­oc as sup­port­ers. You can cease your attacks on refugees and Mus­lims and Lati­nos and oth­er non­white populations.

But you’re not going to do any of that, we expect. And so, because you will not change, we will have to defeat you. We will have to over­come your pol­i­tics of divi­sion and dis­cord in order to save this coun­try. And we will.

We can’t accept this. We can’t accept these evil acts as some­thing we just have to put up with. Gun vio­lence is pre­ventable. Ter­ror­ism is pre­ventable. The rad­i­cal­iza­tion of peo­ple like Bow­ers and Say­oc is preventable.

How long before we find the polit­i­cal will to real­ize the change we need?

Hope­ful­ly, not long.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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