Editor’s note/content warning: this blog contains content that may be triggering or harmful to some readers regarding mass shootings and hate crimes
Less than 300 miles away from my everyday university routine, a massacre took place at the Tree Hill synagogue in Pittsburgh leaving 11 dead. That morning many of us woke up to the news of another hate crime in the series of mass shootings this year. This was the 294th in the series of 297 mass shootings that have occured in 2018 up until then. The numbers have since risen to 307 mass shootings this year.
There were three hate crimes in 72 hours. They all happened in one week. People are witnessing and experiencing deadly hate crimes in grocery stores and even receiving bombs in the mail (Sanchez & Gray, 2018). So how are students discussing and learning about these events in school? Are they completely ignored? Are they acknowledged, discussed and remembered?
One teenager, Lucy Adelman, offers an honest and painstaking insight into her experience,
I pray for peace.
But I’ve been here before and I’ve prayed. When praying didn’t work, I walked out of school. When walking out didn’t work, I spoke up. When speaking up didn’t work, I sang. When singing didn’t work, I marched the streets of Atlanta with thousands of others.
Why schools? Why a synagogue? They’re the two places I’m most connected to, where we’re supposed to find comfort and safety. But not all the security in the world can keep me safe from hate.
Having completed projects on the Holocaust, learned about the bombing of my temple during the Civil Rights Movement, and visited Israel, I was convinced that we were moving away from anti-Semitism.
We are convinced that when our friends or peers make offensive comments that we can’t always say something. They tell us we’re “too sensitive.” They say, “You’re overreacting” … “It was just a joke” … “I didn’t mean it that way.”
And we tell ourselves, “It’s fine. They’re just ignorant.”
But ignorance plus fear equals hate (2018).
Adelman’s reflection points to many factors affecting students, but I want to place particular focus on the way she describes the way that she was led from praying to direct actions and protests. In 2018 alone, more than a dozen gun violence events have taken place in schools including the Parkland shooting that sparked a national movement. Students are the face of a grassroots gun violence movement, and by association, schools will also have to work to address these issues. Another strong point made by Adelman is that no level of security can protect people from hate. This message is especially important as it relates to the hate incidents that happen within schools among the student body. The truth is that many students are constantly in discussions about mass shootings. Teachers and school community members around the country are trying to take recent incidents and these traumas into account.
While many different preventative measures have been recently implemented, the basis for which this is necessary is hardly challenged. One Virginia school teacher shared their input in 2014, that should still be pondered today. “Instead of controlling guns and inconveniencing those who would use them, we are rounding up and silencing a generation of schoolchildren, and terrifying those who care for them” (Beckett, 2017).
It is not a question of whether these events should be discussed in schools– when schools are some of the targeted locations as well— but rather, a question of how these events need to be explained and connected with everyday examples of hate. If we are to find peace, we must begin conversations about the events that prevent peace. Hate crimes are occurring both in and around schools. Anti-semitism, for example, looks just slightly different across those spaces. While swastikas are being tagged in high school bathrooms, an adult white nationalist is shooting up a synagogue. Will the ones tagging swastikas grow up to commit hate crimes of that degree? These are valid concerns, and it is in the hands of schools to do their part in addressing these issues, healing these traumas, and preventing a continuation of the present where a mass shooting takes place nearly every day in the United States.
Finally, we must not forget the message shared by Rabbi Diamond when he called the synagogue shooting “an attack against all of us. So when the reverend says to me he is a rabbi, thank God for the reverend. We are here. We stand together. We stand united” (Belko, 2018).
Adelman, L. (2018, November 4). Praying for peace at 16: It will be 2 years till I’m heard at the ballot box. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/04/opinions/opinion- teenager-after-synagogue-shooting/index.html
Beckett, L. (2017, November 18). America’s response to school massacres? A booming classroom security industry. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us- news/2017/nov/18/school-shootings-security-industry
Belko, M. (2018, November 3). ‘We stand united’: A call for peace at the scene of tragedy. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/news/faith-religion/2018/11/03/shabbat- tree-of-life-synagogue-shooting-pittsburgh-squirrel-hill/stories/201811030073
Gomez, A. (2018, February 22). The Parkland survivors started a movement when they took on gun violence. Here’s how it happened. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/22/parkland-survivors-started- movement-when-they-took-gun-violence-heres-how-happened/361297002/
May, A. and Hafner, J. (2018, October 29). Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: What we know,
questions that remain. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation- now/2018/10/29/pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-what-we-know/1804878002/
Proulx N. and Schulten, K. (2018, February 15). Resources for Talking and Teaching About the School Shooting in Florida. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/15/learning/lesson-plans/resources-for-talking- and-teaching-about-the-school-shooting-in-florida.html
Robinson, M., Gould S., and Lee, S. (2018, October 29). There have been 307 mass shootings in the US so far in 2018—here’s the full list.
Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-mass-shootings-in- america-this-year-2018-2
Sanchez, R. and Gray, M. (2018, October 29). 72 hours in America: Three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/28/us/72- hours-of-hate-in-america/index.html
Smith, T. (2017, April 5). Fighting Hate in Schools. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/04/05/522718288/fighting-hate-in-schools
Vara-Orta, F. (2018, August 6). Hate in schools. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/projects/hate-in-schools.html