I am no longer surprised by reports of mass shootings in this country, nor am I numb to the human tragedy experienced by so many. America suffers from a deep sickness, a perverse reverence of high-powered firearms, an insane veneration of machismo and an insatiable capacity to hate. Mass shootings cannot be dismissed as a consequence of mental illness. That is unfair to the mentally ill, their families and their professional support people. Mass shootings are mental illness, and the fact of the matter is that we are willing to live with it. Other countries are not but we are. We have watched as elementary schools, public concerts and houses of worship have been sprayed with semi-automatic fire and yet we remain politically incapable of doing anything, protecting anybody, not a first grader, not a Black Bible student, not a Jew worshipping and not a group of women at work trying to survive in an economy which is strangling their livelihood.
The latest atrocity involves two strands of madness: anti-Asian bias and misogynistic hate. In fact, these two factors historically often are woven together into a weird fetish about East Asian women. So, what happens when a murderer with a sex problem has a bad day and a stockpile of weapons? Mass murder, pain, and devastation. It is outrageous and the fact that we are impotent and unable to do anything to regulate firearms and ammunition is outrageous.
Newscaster’s report there is an official hesitancy to label the Georgia Massacre a hate crime. What else is it? How is it any different than the anti-Asian legislative acts which sought to exclude Chinese from settling in this country in the 19th century? How is it different than Klansmen attacking Vietnamese shrimper businesses in Texas? How is it different from the other 4,000 plus attacks on Asian Americans in recent times? It is racism and it is racism fueled by a belief that violence against women, especially Asian women, is OK in America.
Many of us live in a community (Elkins Park) that is approximately 10% Asian, most Korean. We go to their shops. We see their signs on their churches. We see them wherever we go. And like the Jewish and African American communities, they are now living in a new dimension of fear that they will be attacked or killed because of how they look or that their businesses will be wrecked by marauders who hate the sight of “others” in their midst.
Asian Americans are not the cause of Covid. They are not stealing other people’s economic futures. They are American citizens and families trying to make a life for themselves in the land of the free and the brave. Our collective freedom is threatened by the violence and hatred plaguing this country. All of us need to be brave in this dark environment.
Today, I am thinking of the words of the prophet Isaiah about the future of Jerusalem so long ago, “No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls ‘Salvation’ and your gates ‘Praise” (60:18). I pray for the day when violence will no longer be heard in our land and we will be saved from the plagues of violence and hate which relentlessly and shamelessly punctuate our lives.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.