BY HAZEL TRICE EDNEY
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As civil rights leaders and voting advocates around the nation prepared for the Nov. 6 mid-term elections last week, they suddenly found themselves embroiled with a string of hate incidents, culminating in arguably the most politically, racially, and ethnically violent week in recent American history.
It started Monday, Oct. 22, when a string of public figures who have been verbally attacked by President Donald Trump – including five Black leaders – were discovered to be targets of pipe bombs, mostly addressed to them through the mail. By Oct. 29, as many as 15 bomb contraptions had been discovered. None reached their apparent targets.
The addressees on the packages included former President Barack Obama, U. S. Rep. Maxine Waters, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, and former Attorney General Eric Holder – all critical of Trump.
Others were sent to former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Joseph Biden, former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton, billionaires Robert De Niro and George Soros; former CIA Director John Brennan, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, and Democratic donor Tom Steyer.
Though none of the bombs exploded, the motive of terror – and possible death – were clear. Cesar Sayoc, 56, was arrested by the FBI in South Florida on Friday, Oct. 26. The Washington Post described Sayoc as a “former pizza deliveryman, strip-club worker and virulently partisan supporter” of President Trump. He was charged with a string of crimes connected with the bombs.
Then, on Wednesday, Oct. 24, a White man was charged with shooting and killing two Black senior citizens at a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky after he tried, but failed to enter a Black church.
The two victims, Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Jones, 67, were shot in the grocery store and the parking lot, respectively. The suspect, Gregory A. Bush, 51, was arrested shortly after the shooting. Amidst Bush’s rampage, a White witness said he pointed a gun at Bush and Bush looked at him and said, ‘Whites don’t shoot Whites.’ The FBI is now investigating the killings of Stallard and Jones and hate crimes.
Ultimately, on Saturday morning, Oct. 27, the nation was devastated when hearing that 11 people had been massacred inside the Tree of Life Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The suspect, Robert D. Bowers, 46, was charged with 29 criminal counts; including using a firearm to commit murder, 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. He is also charged with a hate crime, the obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs.
Bowers was reportedly armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns. Witnesses said he shouted anti-Semitic slurs as he opened fire inside the house of worship. Six other people were wounded, including four police officers. Bowers, himself, was also injured by gunfire, and remains hospitalized this week. It is unclear whether he was shot by authorities or whether his injury was self-inflicted.
Civil rights organizations, dealing with get out to vote and voter protection campaigns, quickly refocused to address the injustices and the threats.
“The NAACP condemns the hate-inspired killings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our condolences go out to those who have suffered losses and injuries during this horrific event. Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and hatred represent horrible stains on our democracy. When these stains are embraced by elected officials and demagogues who prey on the fears and lowest common denominators within our nation, we all suffer,” said a statement. “We must say no to hate, fear-mongering and the demonization of differences.”
The NAACP continued, “It’s unfortunate that this tragedy follows the terroristic behavior of those who feel justified in sending bombs to those who differ politically. Our nation at its best represents inclusion and opportunity. This is one side of America, yet on the other side of America exists, the often embraced idea of using violence toward those with different political views. It’s a side our community knows all too well and continues to experience. We empathize with members of the Jewish Community attending a baby naming service at a synagogue, children at a school or being separated from parents at our borders or simple church-goers seeking to worship in peace– all of it is wrong and disheartening.”
The Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement on the Kroger Grocery Store and the synagogue shootings simultaneously.
“It brings me great sorrow to have to recurrently address the public and console our loved ones due to acts of grotesque, racially charged hate and pure evil,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, CBC chairman. “This is not the United States of America that we should know, love, or grow accustomed to.”
Richmond continued, “We cannot sit back and watch as bigots and racists take the lives of innocent Americans, and we must not stay silent while white nationalists continue to feel emboldened and empowered by the tacit approval of our highest form of leadership. At a time like this, it is clear that we must perform an audit of our core values, evaluate what we really stand for, and then take the necessary corrective steps to ending anti-Semitic and other racially charged acts of violence from becoming a common occurrence.”
Despite the havoc of the week of hate, the terror was nothing new to Black people, Richmond noted.
He wrote, “African Americans know well the deeply rooted pain also experienced by those in the Jewish community on the account of the flagrant racists and bigots that poison our country. Events ranging from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama to the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, to the Freedom Summer murders in Mississippi, both African Americans and the Jewish community know what it is like to be targeted and routinely persecuted all in the name of fear and hate.”
Painful reflections on the hate incidents played out through heartfelt posts on social media. Theodore Shaw, distinguished professor of law and director of University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, who is also former director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, posted an extensive reflection on Facebook.
“Yesterday, with all of the focus on the mail bombs sent to liberal/Democratic leadership, almost lost in the news was the Kentucky shootings of two African Americans by a white man who almost went into a black church to kill and maim African American worshipers. Today, in Pittsburgh, a hate-driven anti-Semite entered a synagogue and killed eleven people,” Shaw wrote “Jews, African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, migrants, LGBTQ people, women, and others are objects of hatred and violence simply because of who and what they are. My heart aches for our country and what it is these days.”
Shaw concluded with a skillful refocus on the upcoming election: “We cannot shoot our way out of this problem. Nor can we look to the individual who occupies the White House. He is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We have to express solidarity with one another and condemn hatred on all grounds. It is up to all people of good will to reject this madness, and to stand with any community targeted because of who and what they are. And to vote for those who share the values of inclusion, diversity, and, dare I say, the beloved community. And vote to turn out of office or stop the election of haters.”