PITTSBURGH — On Saturday morning, a man attacked a synagogue with an assault rifle and three handguns, claiming the lives of at least 11 worshippers and wounding four police officers.
This horrific, hate-filled event is being described as perhaps the deadliest attack to have taken place in the U.S. on the Jewish community, and has created widespread fear across the country.
The assailant, identified by law enforcement officials as Robert D. Bowers, was a user of the social network Gab, an alternative social media site known to be a platform for the far right and white nationalists, according to Politico Magazine.
Bowers spewed anti-Semitic comments online before storming into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opening fire on the worshippers, who were exercising their right to religious freedom.
Bowers is currently being charged with 29 criminal courts, including 11 federal hate crime charges and another 11 counts of using a firearm to kill. These charges carry a maximum penalty of death, according to USA Today.
President Donald Trump has expressed support for Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, to pursue the death penalty for Bowers.
Bowers is being held without bail, and the hearing of his case will come before a federal grand jury within the month, said Brady.
Unfortunately, hate crimes like the one that took place in the Tree of Life congregation are seen too often in society.
A hate crime is a violent act which is motivated by religious, racial, sexual or other prejudice, and is usually fueled by ignorance. A report released in May 2018 by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism concluded that hate crimes increased by 12 percent since 2017.
An article found on everytownresearch.org reported, “In an average year, over 10,300 hate crimes involve a firearm—more than 28 each day. And reports indicate that hate crimes are on the rise. But in most of the United States, there is no law prohibiting people convicted of violent hate crimes from having guns.”
It is also stated that 20 percent of these hate crimes are motivated by bias against a religion, most often anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic.
Hate crimes are sometimes considered misdemeanors, even if they are threatening or violent. If a person is convicted but is only given a misdemeanor for performing a hate crime, they are still allowed to buy and own a gun.
Senior and public relations major at Salisbury University Chase Hancock-Grider feels very strongly when it comes to the United States’ policy involving gun rights.
“If I could change the policy on guns in the United States, I would do something similar to what Australia did after the Port Arthur Shooting in 1996,” said Hancok-Grider. “The country did a massive buyback program on all firearms and made accessibility to all firearms an exclusive to hunting and sport. Their rates of shootings are far below what they used to be, and I believe America could use them as a lesson.”
However, restricting gun rights in the U.S. would only be the first solution to this deeply rooted problem. The amount of hate that is circulating our country right now seems to be impenetrable.
There is so much ignorance and pure hatred in some people’s hearts, and while putting more restrictions on guns would definitely alleviate some of the terrible outcomes of this, hate crimes will continue to occur.
Jeffery Myers, Rabbi for the Tree of Life Synagogue, spoke to CNN and called for political leaders to denounce the hateful rhetoric that is being spread across America.
“You are our leaders, we turn to you. You are the models for our country,” said Myers. “When you speak words of hate, when you speak ill of the other candidate, any words of hate, Americans listen to you. They get their instructions from you.”
Myers adds that hate is not restricted to one political party, but is everywhere.
He calls on political leaders to “Tone down the hate. Speak words of love. Speak words of decency and of respect. When that message comes loud and clear, Americans will hear that and we can begin to change the tenor of our country.”
It is now that we, as a country, have to focus on educating the youth on the acceptance of diversity and begin to foster their love for the world around them.
A world where people don’t get shot and killed for practicing their faith, all because of preconceived ideas surrounding a religion.
By Melanie Raible
Featured photo: TheHill.com