In America, shootings have become part of the news cycle. There is a breaking news alert, followed by an outpouring of support, condolences and appeals for stricter gun policy. We continue to hear about it as the media gains more information on the event — the victims, the shooter, the town where it happened. We sometimes hear from the victims directly. But then, like all things, it eventually dwindles. And with each gut-wrenching, breaking news alert, we slowly adjust to a world in which this is normal. Today is the 129th day of 2019 and, already, 132 mass shootings where four or more people were shot have occurred in America this year. Despite the value of each unique human life and each unique circumstance, shootings occur in America so often that, with every bullet shot and every life lost, we become increasingly desensitized to the appalling acts of hate that plague our nation with increasing frequency.
On April 27, 2019, a shooting occurred at a synagogue in Poway, California, where worshippers gathered on the last day of Passover. Three people were injured and one woman was killed — Lori Gilbert Kaye, who was shot as she prepared to say the traditional prayer for her late mother. Any loss of life or intentionally inflicted harm is tragic, but even more so when motivated by intolerance and hate.
As I have observed the ebb and flow of gun terror and hate crimes in America, I’ve noticed a pattern in how people react. More often than not, when people post on social media or speak out about one of these events, it is when their identity is the one that is attacked. While I have never been religious, the Jewish identity I inherited from my mother’s family is something that will always be a part of me. The history of anti-Semitism is long and violent with Jews being discriminated against, displaced, targeted and even killed. Even though I am not religious, even though my father is not Jewish, it would not make a difference in the eyes an anti-Semite. For the shooter of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, it would not have mattered.
This is not the only reason why I am driven to speak about the shooting. I speak about the shooting not just because I am a Jewish person, not just because I am an American, but because I am a human being. I may be more directly impacted by the hate perpetuated against those in this synagogue than those shot in two of New Zealand’s mosques, but both are tragic, and both deserve condemnation. All shootings, especially those motivated by hatred towards certain groups, are tragic, despite the seemingly endless slew of them in America.
The importance of diversity and the influence of different identities such as religion, ethnicity and nationality are essential. They are what make America such a special country. American culture is defined not by a singular legacy, but rather by the mixing of many different ones. Our differences enable us to learn from and grow closer to each other. But, in a world where marginalized identities are constantly on the defense, we are losing one of the most beautiful aspects of what makes us human: empathy. By emphasizing the cultural, racial, ethnic and religious differences that distinguish us in response to the hostilities that permeate society, we are losing the ability to empathize and identify with other humans.
But we can do amazing things when we come together, defending the freedom so fundamental to our country not just for our own communities, but for those of all groups. After the Tree of Life shooting, Muslim groups raised $150,000 for the victims. And when two mosques in New Zealand were targeted, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised money for New Zealand’s Muslim community. Not only are we at our strongest when we are able to look beyond our own identities, but it is imperative that we help and defend each other in order to truly work towards equality.
The other day, I was talking about politics with my grandmother, who is Republican, on the phone and she said something that struck me. As we discussed the inequality and violence in today’s America, she said, “We’re all American. It doesn’t matter where you go to pray.”
We’re all American, but even more fundamentally, we’re all human. We need better gun control laws, but that’s not all; America needs to address the thriving intolerance, hate and violence. We must realize that, while America’s strength is in our diversity, our greatest weakness is when we allow our individual identities to separate us.
Olivia Turano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.