We must condemn hatred, curb gun violence to reclaim our country

We must condemn hatred, curb gun violence to reclaim our country
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When newly elected and incumbent representatives head to Washington as part of the 116th Congress, they will find themselves presiding over one of the most violent and vitriolic periods in recent American history.

In the weeks leading up to and following the 2018 midterm elections, a wave of murderous hatred was visited upon communities that contribute to the vibrant tapestry of our nation, but which disciples of white supremacy seek to destroy. From a mail bomber to a grocery store gunman to two mass murders in a two-week span, each of these recent acts of violence is symptomatic of the diseases of bigotry and violence that eat away at our country like a cancer.

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Starting on Oct. 22, over a dozen pipe bombs were mailed to the homes and offices of politicians, public figures and news outlets. Two days later, a man attempted to enter a black church in Kentucky with a gun. When his entry was blocked because the church doors were locked, he instead went to a Kroger supermarket where he shot and killed two African-Americans. On Oct. 27, 11 Jews were slaughtered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue by a man who acted alone, but whose actions were motivated and inspired by anti-Semitic, white supremacist rhetoric.

The day after the election, a gunman killed 12 people and himself at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Less than a week later, police responded to a shooting at a bar outside Chicago and fatally shot the African-American security guard who had subdued the shooter.

In recent years, we have suffered far too many scenes such as these, including the massacres at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; a Las Vegas concert; and, earlier, the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The violence of the past month demonstrates the destructive power of hate-mongering demagoguery. It is hatred of the other that lies at the heart of white supremacy. Because of this, the sight of people joining hands across the aisle, across artificial gender constructs, across religious, ethnic and color lines is a threat to those who wish to see an America divided by hate — an America separated by the other. But we know there can be no divisions as we fight bigotry, racism and hate because those corrosive malignancies endanger everything good and right about the American experiment.

And yet, combating white supremacy and hate will not be enough, because at the heart of each of these horrors was another, uniquely American, evil: gun violence. The hate that entered through the doors of each school, each store, each club, each church and synagogue, none could have stolen so many lives had its agents not been so fatally armed.

Our synagogues and churches are not safe, nor are our movie theaters and schools, our children and our elders. Every conceivable space in American life and every person within our borders has been made a target by unstable and angry people with access to guns. Our identities and communities overlap and intertwine, giving some of us more than one reason to fear: Jews of color, Christian refugees, Muslim Latinos, LGBTQ people of every shade and background. Poverty and gendered violence bring their own threats, each made worse and more terrible by the flood of guns filling our homes and our streets.

The outpouring of support that inevitably meets this carnage shows us the way forward. We must choose to be committed to building a community of safety and security in which we all have each other’s backs, allowing us to confront anti-Semitism, the vilification of immigrants and refugees, the racism with which black citizens must grapple every day, and the gun violence that threatens us everywhere we live.

When the 116th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2019, we must demand they make gun violence prevention a top priority, by passing legislation that bans assault-style weapons and bump stocks and strengthens the background check system. We must hold leadership accountable for their words and actions, and demand that they denounce bigotry, anti-Semitism and racism in all forms.

If we can do this, we will be able to reclaim the humanity and soul of our country. This is the only true answer to the carnage we have suffered. Please join us in this fight. The future of America depends on it.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the hub of Jewish social justice work. Follow him on Twitter @JonahPesner.

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP, America’s largest civil rights organization. Follow him on Twitter @DerrickNAACP.