Bowser’s focus was spot on. This holiday season was a high time for hate.
Criminal charges were filed this week against Grafton E. Thomas in the stabbing of five people celebrating Hanukkah in a rabbi’s house in Monsey, N.Y., on Dec. 28. The next day, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, wearing a fake beard, a wig and a long coat, opened fire inside a church in White Settlement, Tex., killing two worshipers.
Kinnunen didn’t live to tell about it. A member of the church’s volunteer security team shot Kinnunen in the head, killing him on the spot.
These gruesome events followed a hate-driven attack hundreds of miles away. A few days before Christmas, in Polk County, Iowa, Nicole Marie Poole Franklin was charged with attempted murder for hate crimes allegedly committed on Dec. 9 — specifically, trying to run over two children in separate incidents.
The first hit-and-run victim, a 12-year-old black youth, was walking on a sidewalk in a Des Moines apartment complex when Franklin, according to witnesses, accelerated her 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, striking him and speeding off. He suffered minor injuries to his leg.
About 30 minutes later, police said, the second victim, a girl age 14, was walking toward school in the nearby suburb of Clive to watch a basketball game when she was intentionally hit by Franklin — who, when arrested, told police she specifically targeted the girl because she appeared to be “Mexican.” The girl suffered a concussion and severe bruising over much of her body and spent two days in the hospital.
Franklin was also charged with creating a disturbance and using racial slurs at a gas station in West Des Moines.
The Hanukkah stabbing, the Church of Christ shooting and the Des Moines hit-and-runs have drawn essentially the same public responses — denunciations of hate, kudos to first responders, pledges of more law enforcement and commitments to bring safety to our streets, homes and places of worship. The Texas slayings elicited special praise from both church leaders and police because licensed gun owners with concealed weapons were stationed among the congregation.
But the bigotry and hatred that fueled the wielders of the machete, the shotgun and the weaponized SUV haven’t received as much play.
Therein lies the problem.
There are a lot more Grafton Thomases, Keith Kinnunens and Nicole Marie Franklins out and about across the length and breadth of America.
This isn’t anecdotal. Hate-driven violence against individuals, the FBI reported in November, reached a 16-year high in 2018.
Hate crimes surged in the District to 205 in the same year.
And while the final total for 2019 has not been established, the city was on pace, according to D.C. police department data, to set a record.
Is the answer just to wait for cruel and violent bigots to make the first move and then jail them or gun them down?
Or should Bowser’s rule to stand united in love to fight and work proactively for peace and safety be followed?
There are ways to do what she advocates, and they aren’t all that novel or complicated. The ideas certainly don’t begin with me.
The first step is to check ourselves — to make sure we are setting an example of showing respect for others through our own behavior, through how we speak and treat people. Seek out and join with others — faith alliances, civic groups, schools — and link up with law enforcement, to ferret out hate that may be brewing in the community. Early warning signs may be staring you in the face. Speak up and speak out.
Hate victims may be just down the street. Reach out and support them, however you can. Let them know they aren’t alone.
And don’t let any suspected hate-based incident go unreported. Hate thrives with silence. It shrivels from attention and activism.
Let the Thomases, Kinnunens and Franklins know you’re out there. And that there are more of you than there are of them.
Next holiday season, make it hate that takes a holiday.
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