icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures




This guest post by Diane J. Schmidt is a shortened version of the column that was first published in the Gallup Independent "Spiritual Perspectives" section on July 29, 2023.




   A jury decided on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, that the shooter in the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania should be put to death. I recall the enormous international outcry when the shooting happened in 2018, and a reaction I'd heard: "What's the big deal? There was a worse mass shooting where I live." It was not the first time I'd heard a "what about" sentiment about a hate crime. And it can come from both the right and left.

   We need to be reminded what hate crimes are, and affected communities need to stand together. As the planet heats up, tempers are rising. And with it, prejudice and intolerance are increasing. Hatred of the other manifests. Social tensions are being exacerbated, sometimes deliberately, and racism is now a popular ploy for votes.
   In 2010 a developmentally disabled 22-year-old Navajo man was assaulted in Farmington, New Mexico, USA, and branded with a swastika. The victim finally escaped to a convenience store, where police were summoned. The Farmington police, who'd been trained to recognize hate crimes by the Anti-Defamation League, contacted the FBI. It was the first federally prosecuted case under President Obama's new Shepard/Byrd hate crime law; the principal offender was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in federal prison.
   I'd reported on the trial for the Navajo Times. It was also tried at the state level, and when I interviewed a district court official in Aztec, New Mexico, he said, "What's the big deal? Navajo people are always beating each other up and worse."
   It was fortunate that the Farmington Police had the awareness to report this to the FBI as a hate crime.
   In 2018, an avowed white supremacist and antisemite entered the Tree of Life Synagogue during prayer services and shot and killed 11 Jewish congregants. It is the worst antisemitic act of violence against Jews in the United States.
   In July, the jury determined that the shooter was guilty on all counts, including hate crimes, and was capable of forming intent to commit the crime, making him eligible for the death penalty. The jury heard testimony from survivors and family members, and also from relatives of the shooter and a psychiatrist for the defense. The jury decided to recommend the death sentence rather than life in prison. The governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, announced 6 months ago as the trial got underway that he would not issue any execution warrants during his term.
    When the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting received international attention, I wrote for the New Mexico Jewish Link about how religious leaders here came together in condemnation of this act. A friend in Europe, whose country had experienced a terrible mass shooting some years earlier perpetrated by a political extremist, wrote me, at some level annoyed by the attention this shooting received, saying essentially, "What's the big deal?" There is an important difference between a political act and a hate crime.
  A hate crime is motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, and it is felt widely by the group that the victim may be perceived to be a member of.
   After 9/11/2001, members of the Sikh religion, who wear distinctive turbans, were targeted in many cities with acts of violence, including murder. After COVID began, following a tweet by the former president calling it the "Chinese virus," there was a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Historically, Native Americans, African Americans, and other people of color have been the target of hate crimes. Hatred of Jews is a hate crime called antisemitism.
  A current presidential candidate, known primarily for having a famous father who was a Kennedy and for being a leader of the anti-vax movement, just made the racist and antisemitic claim that COVID was genetically engineered to target Caucasians and Blacks, but not to affect Asians and Jews. That is untrue. 
   One to one and a half million Chinese citizens died from COVID as reported in "How Deadly Was China's Covid Wave?" (New York Times, 2/15/23). Their graph showed that internationally, the U.S. was number one, and Israel was seventh in death rates. Speaking personally as a Jew, I and other relatives of mine got COVID.
   False accusations are particularly egregious to Jews, who for centuries have been massacred over inane accusations scapegoating them. In the 14th century they were accused of spreading the Black Plague, because they were not dying as much as their Christian neighbors. Jews put fresh straw in their bedding every Friday to honor the Sabbath, inadvertently removing flea-carrying rats, the real source of the Plague.
   We must all must find common cause against the rise of hatred in all its forms.


Diane Joy Schmidt is an award-winning writer and photojournalist in New Mexico.

She is a colleague of mine.

Post a comment



Every day the New York Times encourages me to share my Wordle and Spelling Bee accomplishments. Marketing must think if I keep telling people how I did, more will want to subscribe to the Times. That might even be true. Or maybe my friends would just be put off by that most unattractive pursuit––bragging. It's immaterial because, as you may know, I'm not on social media any longer.
Last week I was twice invited to "share with your community." "Community" has become almost synonymous with "social media." One of these invitations implored me to tell my community I had donated to their campaign for reelection. Because of the stakes in the next election, I really wanted to share it, although when I was on social media, I eschewed posting about politics. Without mentioning names (though you can most likely guess if you know me at all) I will tell you that I donated because I'd read that this particular team was doing well at raising campaign funds from organizations, but this time around has garnered relatively little from the grassroots. I wished I could prompt my fellow roots to join me. Because things are heating up––literally and figuratively.
The past few weeks, soaring temperatures in the US and Europe, wildfires in Canada and Greece, have made it undeniable that we are in crisis. When I turn on the little window AC in my apartment, I wonder if the power companies are preparing for how much more we'll be running heating and cooling systems in the very near future. I suspect not. Some days and in some places, the heat is almost unbearable. I can't help thinking of my beloveds and what life might be like for them after I've left the planet, whether it will even be livable. I am literally filled with dread for them, as we, which means me, keep on living life as usual, our collective heads in the sand.
I have hoped to visit Denmark one more time and also spend time in the Netherlands to learn more about my Dutch heritage. I have enough points to fly there and back for less than $100. But air travel produces an extremely high carbon footprint. I love being mobile here in the US, but again, carbon footprint. I started thinking about living somewhere where I could do everything I need to do on foot. For as long as I'm able, which would probably make me able for longer than otherwise.
With deep regret, I am giving up on a trip to Europe. I had hoped to drive the vehicle I have now (entirely gas-powered) until I'm no longer able to drive. But on Saturday, I placed a pre-order for a reasonably priced, solar-powered electric car. Aptera Motors immediately invited me to share my action with my "community." And I really did want to share. It turns out that YOU are my online community. So I'm letting you know about it.
I know I'm just one person attempting to have an effect on this daunting global problem. But change has to happen at every level, which also means at the grassroots. As Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.... Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world."

Post a comment