Tag Archives: Gun violence

Addressing the Many Layers of Gun Violence

I was away last week taking a short respite, for which I am grateful – I unplugged from work, email, and social media in an attempt to filter out the world.

In the days before I stepped away, we were all grappling with the horrific white supremacist assault in Buffalo that took 10 lives. I thought I might come back and share some additional reflections on that – beyond our initial statements and outreach. I, like many others, have been reaching out to lend support to our friends and partners in local Black communities – and to express our solidarity as they have so often when Jews have been attacked.

But then, last week, came the horror in Uvalde, Texas, as 21 people – including 19 children –were killed. I sat down this week thinking I’d expand on our statement last week and outline  the work we have done and will continue to do to combat the scourge of gun violence that plagues our nation.

As I pondered what to say here, we learned of the killing of 4 people at a Tulsa medical center on Wednesday evening.

There are a staggering number of mass shootings (those in which four or more people are killed or injured) in this country; some 232 just this year already, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

It is impossible to give each of these assaults on our society, and each of the individual victims, the depth of attention and gravity that they are due. It says something about our country that the mass shooting of children has not – at least in the past – invited the kind of national focus and clarity of will that would lead to profound changes in our laws and practices in order to prevent the next such horror. 

But one aspect in particular that I’m sitting with this morning are the multiple layers of these mass shootings, and our need to focus on each aspect of this national crisis. There is the layer of intent, as in Buffalo and elsewhere, where the motives are white supremacist in nature. There is the layer of mental health, a rising crisis in our nation and possibly a factor in at least some of the recent high-profile assaults. And there is the layer of means, as in access to high powered assault weapons that enable someone to cause far more damage and pain than they might be able to otherwise.

I don’t have anything profound or new to offer by way of insight on these challenges today, other than to say “yes, and.”  

We can and must address all of these facets concurrently (and no doubt others as well). We have to combat rising extremism and its normalization – such as the ways in which the “great replacement” conspiracy theory (including its antisemitic aspects) has been normalized by major media figures and members of Congress. JCRC will continue to invest in partnerships and collaborations that build bridges across communities that invite and encourage us to stand up for each other, to confront hatred together, and to challenge those who choose to look away.  

We have to invest in mental health services at every level of society. JCRC recently adopted principles for mental health advocacy and we are working with CJP and the human service agencies that we proudly advocate for on Beacon Hill, to expand access for all in our Greater Boston community.  

We have to find a way forward on gun safety. We are proud members of the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and will continue to advocate both locally and with our federal partners. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the events of the world can be overwhelming, and how this post does not even begin to cover the litany of challenges we’re facing as a community and a society.  

I often am pressed to make a choice – about what we prioritize and who we partner with – and I appreciate that need to prioritize. We can’t possibly respond with the same urgency of purpose and resources to every crisis and every challenge in the world. And the choices we make about which ones we do respond to says something about ourselves as individuals and as a society.  

But this moment, right now - knowing that between the time I write this and the time that you read this there will, with almost absolute certainty, be yet another incident of mass gun violence in the United States - requires of us a specific form of urgency. We need to commit to addressing this crisis with a “yes, and” approach.  

Together we can make the choice to have the will to tackle all of its many facets and layers.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC Statement on Mass Shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas

For the second time in two weeks, just ten days after a racist mass shooting in Buffalo that killed 10 people, our nation must endure another mass shooting. This incident is now the deadliest school shooting in Texas history and the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. elementary school since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

The news out of Texas yesterday is heartbreaking and enraging.

We extend our heartfelt prayers to all of the victims and to their families in Uvalde, Texas.

But we also recognize that thoughts and prayers are not enough; not enough for us as engaged citizens and most of all, not enough for our elected leaders charged with the responsibility of ensuring our safety.

We do not yet know the motive for this heinous crime. What we know is that regardless of the motive – whether in Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Roseburg, Oregon; at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; at the Pulse Night Club in Tampa, Florida; at a Congressional baseball practice in suburban Washington, D.C.; at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada; at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; in Parkland, Florida; Buffalo, New York; and now Uvalde, Texas – these acts of violence must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

There is an epidemic of gun violence in this country.

Our leaders have done precious little to address the nation's gun laws instead of using every tool at their disposal to affect changes to our laws to protect every citizen from such senseless violence.

For us at JCRC, the commitment to gun violence prevention runs deep. We reaffirm now what we have said in the past: common sense gun safety regulation, while safeguarding the ability of law-abiding Americans to own firearms for personal use, can save lives.

The organized Jewish community was a leader in the successful 2014 effort by Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to adopt reasonable legislation that has contributed to Massachusetts having one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation, but we cannot take the strength of our laws for granted.

Today, JCRC renews our commitment to work for comprehensive federal laws to reduce further gun violence and save lives. Such action will come too late for those who were taken from us yesterday. We must not wait even one more day to demand action that will save others still with us.

Not Completing the Task

As we absorbed the news last week out of Parkland – yet another mass shooting in yet another school – like so many of you I found myself enraged. But as time passes, I’ve also been struck by a sense of both despair and hope when I reflect on our work and my own responsibility as a community leader.

Though I am far from the only person to note this, I am saddened by my own cynicism in thinking that a nation unable to come together to address the scourge of gun violence after the slaughters of Newtown or Las Vegas (to cite just two examples) is unlikely to do so now. And yet I find hope in these young survivors of Parkland, who are bringing renewed energy to a long struggle. The profound and authentic anger of this generation, coming of age in the nineteen years since Columbine, is palpable; as is their indictment of adults who have failed to keep them safe. And their relentlessness in taking on a mantle of responsibility for their own safety and that of our nation is truly inspiring.

For us at JCRC, the commitment to gun violence prevention runs deep. We take pride in our participation in the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and, most significantly, our investment in passing our state’s 2014 legislation – a measure that has resulted in Massachusetts having the lowest gun-related mortality rate in the nation.

I am also sobered by the realization that on this matter, as with so many of those we have taken on, the work is long-term. The thorniest and most critical issues we’ve tackled have known periods of great intensity, including big wins and painful losses; most often, they are enduring campaigns that span decades and are seemingly without end. Whether it be the fights for civil rights, building support for Israel against her demonizers, or the effort to expand the social safety net – these struggles play out over decades. Candidly, I am also at a stage of mid-life reflection, approaching fifty this year – increasingly aware that the odds of my being part of the culmination of successful efforts to achieve some of our most audacious and far-reaching goals during my career grow slimmer with each passing year. What keeps me from despair is the knowledge that if we nurture and support the next generation of leaders – eloquent and passionate young people like these riveting Parkland students commanding our attention right now – this sacred work will continue and ultimately bear fruit.

And so I think about ours and my own core imperative and responsibility to the generation that will follow; to affirm the continuing renaissance of the Jewish people and our dreams and aspirations, including as a force to make the world better for all people (to paraphrase the great teacher and Jewish leader Avraham Infeld). Part of that obligation is to ensure that the young people coming up now are skilled leaders, for the future and for right now.

It means making space for their leadership and lifting up their passions, their concerns, and their visions. It is in the willingness to bend to meet them where they are and be willing to follow them to places that may be discomforting or even jarring to us. We – and I – have a responsibility and opportunity to help them rise and hone their skills as leaders. We can offer our mentorship and impart lessons that were hard-earned for us, even as we remain open to lessons they will teach us. We can do everything possible to ensure that they have the skills and resources to lead their generation, and to take on the responsibility of continued renaissance for the one after them.

I am reminded of the teachings of the sacred Mishna, a text we often turn to for moral guidance in our work. In refusing to give into our cynicism and despair, in recommitting to supporting and developing the leadership of the next generation, we are acting upon the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Statement from JCRC on Las Vegas Mass Shooting

For the second time in two years, we awoke to the horrifying news that our nation had endured the worst mass shooting in our history. The news out of Las Vegas this morning is heartbreaking – and enraging.

We extend our heartfelt prayers to all of the victims and to the families in Las Vegas who are only now finding out about the loss of loved ones. And we recognize that thoughts and prayers are not enough; not for us as engaged citizens and most of all, not for our elected leaders charged with the responsibility of ensuring our safety.

We do not yet know the motive for this heinous crime.  What we know is that regardless of the motive - whether in San Bernardino, California or Roseburg, Oregon, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, at the Pulse Night Club in Tampa, at a Congressional baseball practice in suburban Washington, or now at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas – these acts of violence are heinous and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We must seek to know the motive and we must have an honest national conversation about these actors.

We do not yet know the toll of those taken from us this morning. What we know is that on an average day, 93 Americans are murdered by gun violence, nearly 12,000 every year, at 25 times the average rate in other developed countries. We know that even as these mass shootings horrify us and capture our attention, thousands more will die by gunfire – in bystander violence, in domestic violence, by suicide or crimes that will disproportionately impact communities of color - without the media attention we see this morning.

We do not yet know how this gunman acquired his weapons. What we know is that common sense gun safety regulation, while safeguarding the ability of law-abiding American to own firearms for personal use, can save lives. The organized Jewish community was a leader in the successful 2014 effort by Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to adopt reasonable legislation; legislation that has contributed to Massachusetts having one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation.

We renew our commitment to working for comprehensive federal laws to reduce further gun violence and save lives. Such action will come too late for those who were taken from us this morning. We must not wait even one more day to demand action that will save others still with us.

JCPA Condemns Shooting of Congressman Scalise

The following statement was issued on June 15, 2017 by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the national network of Jewish Community Relations Councils.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs strongly condemns the senseless shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and several capitol police during baseball practice yesterday.

We pray for the full recovery of all victims.

The shootings are yet another reminder of the importance of reinforcing our democratic  pluralist ethos and a political culture of respect.

We call on our public officials, civic and religious leaders to do all we can can to embrace our differences.  America is made up of diversity: diverse opinions, cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions.

"Political violence has no place in a democracy," stated David Bernstein, president and CEO of JCPA. "Our only response is to advance the kind of society in which such acts become unthinkable. We've got a ways to go."

Issue by Issue

Seventeen years ago, I took part in an organizing campaign that is still a point of pride for me, and I believe that the experience yields some valuable lessons for our work here at JCRC.

It was the late 1990s, and I was a volunteer organizer with JFREJ in New York City, during a time when - in the wake of the slaying of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was shot 41 times by police while sitting on the front steps of his Bronx apartment – conversations about the use of excessive force by police dominated the headlines. There were several months of public action and civil disobedience, with members of the Jewish community deeply involved as a result of our organizing. And then, Gidone Busch, an Orthodox Jew with severe mental illness, was fatally shot near his Brooklyn home.

As two communities, African-Americans and Hasidic Jews, each came to the urgency of this issue from different paths, we also came to work with leaders who were highly problematic to us and to each other.

So when we convened a press event at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan to demand action against excessive force and for enhanced civilian oversight it was quite a remarkable moment, headlined by two men: Reverend Al Sharpton, who had led anti-Semitic boycotts and incited riots against the Jewish community; and, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who had taken anti-LGBT positions and participated in controversial racially biased activities. These two men, who had gone toe-to-toe with each other on many other matters stood side-by-side in a queer-affirming synagogue to unite on the issue at hand.

In our unity, we built more power for our movement, leading to changes in NYPD operations. None of us was less committed to pursuing our full agendas, nor had we forgiven our grievances for each other. Rather, in that moment, we all recognized that to be effective in achieving change, we needed to work in coalition; and, working in coalition is profoundly limited when we choose to partner only with those with whom we are fully aligned on every issue.

Last week I talked about the severe ideological sorting and social separations that are becoming pervasive in our society. Our success as an organization and as a community comes only when we resist this urge and partner on an issue-by-issue basis. This is true whether it is JCRC working in partnerships with religious institutions with which we differ on LGBTQ equality, so that together we can address the scourge of gun violence. This is true when AIPAC brings together evangelicals and progressives in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship; and, this is true when we sit at our own table of JCRC as a diverse coalition of forty-two organizations who don’t agree among ourselves on many things. And, no, this does not mean that we don’t have boundaries about who we’d work with (but that’s a post for another week).

So yes, we’ll continue to participate in, and even embrace, the sometimes uncomfortable alliances – with other faith communities and with other issue groups with whom we don’t agree on many things – in order to get things done. And maybe, sometimes, by working together on one issue or many, we will foster the relationships that allow us to debate our differences in a healthier and more productive way.

I’ve appreciated the opportunity and ability to have hard conversations with partners - including this week when our trusting relationships have enabled us to talk with each other about the causes and consequences of the Orlando massacre. By starting to appreciate the value of our disparate allies on some matters we can start to recognize our interdependence with each other to tackle all matters in healthier ways than our current civil discourse allows.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Statement from Boston JCRC on Orlando Attack

As we complete our observance of Shavuot tonight, we are heartbroken by the news of the horrifying massacre in Orlando early yesterday morning. We are only beginning to fathom the horror, the unthinkable “firsts” that mark this nightmarish event. It bears repeating that this is the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the worst gun violence assault ever in our nation, and the single worst attack targeting the LGBTQ community. There’s much we have yet to learn about the dark forces behind the carnage, but this much we do know: this attack took place in what should have been a safe haven and place of belonging for the LGBTQ community, and at a time of celebration in the month of Pride.

The LGBTQ community was clearly and specifically targeted by a murderer acting upon baseless hatred. The targeting of any Americans for who they are and for living freely is an attack on all of us and on the freedom which constitutes the very soul of this nation. In the wake of this horrific act, we must resist the temptation to focus solely on a single factor at play. There are multiple dynamics, each one perilous in its own right and demanding a vigorous response.

We must face facts:

  • Gun violence proliferates in our culture. Assault weapons meant for military use are readily available, to a wide variety of consumers.
  • The LGBTQ community continues to be subjected to a deep and targeted hatred, despite recent achievements in civil rights.
  • And, if the killer's own words are to be taken at face value - we are all threatened by a violent and radical reinterpretation of a religious tradition, including faithful adherents to that tradition.

To talk about any one of these while ignoring the other does a disservice to the victims, to Americans, and to our ability as a nation to address this attack effectively and to prevent the next attack from being a sad inevitability.

We must also acknowledge that none of these challenges is new:

  • We have called over and over for action, as mass shootings happen across our country every two weeks in schools, malls, workplaces, houses of worship, and on so many of our streets. While the motivations of these attacks differ, all are made fundamentally worse by our all too easy access to guns. “Thoughts and prayers” and platitudes for the victims are insufficient. Nothing short of immediate, concrete, and measurable action is acceptable to restrict access to assault weapons and illegally obtained handguns.
  • We’ve seen the LGBT community targeted in the past. Here too, prayers and expressions of solidarity for victims in the wake of this violence ring hollow when they come from those who have engaged in and supported the rhetoric of homophobia, or have put up obstacles to legal protections for the LGBTQ community. Now is the time for serious reflection about the ways in which all of us nurture a culture of hatred toward this community and other minorities, and to insist on action to make ours a society that embraces and protects all of us in our differences and our dignity.
  • Last year, when a Jewish religious extremist committed a terrorist murder at the Jerusalem LGBT Pride March, we reminded the Jewish community that such radicalism and violence are not reflective of our community. Still, we said then, the path to radicalization and violent extremism begins someplace, and it is incumbent on all of us to address the roots of its formation in our faith community. So too today we must welcome and lift up the clear rejection of these actions by leaders of communities with which this terrorist is identified, while also insisting that all faith communities reflect on the ways in which the path he took began - and we must offer our partnership and support to those who work to ensure that the seeds of violent extremism are rooted out in each of our communities.

To recognize and name that the terrorist claimed to act in allegiance with Daesh also requires us to affirm that Daesh does not represent the mainstream Muslim community. Radical Islam is a real and serious challenge in our time that threatens not just our nation but also threatens the global Muslim community. While we must protect our nation and defeat this extreme ideology, engaging in rhetoric or enacting policies that demonize all Muslims is an obstacle to that end. Rather we must work to ally ourselves with and reach out to Muslim communities - here in the U.S. and abroad - who are fighting for the soul of Islam, a religion that they interpret as advocating peace and humanity and rejecting violence. We must work together with our partners in communities here in New England who quickly spoke out and rejected the violence in Orlando.

JCRC and the organized Jewish community join with others in Boston in declaring our solidarity with the LGBTQ community, with the people of Orlando, and with all those who are standing up to reject violence and the spread of extremism and hate in all its forms.

 

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Jeremy Burton                                Adam Suttin
Executive Director                       Board President