Thursday, May 09, 2019

Living In America

Sadly, this blog post is not about the James Brown song featured in Rocky IV. In the immediacy of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, I wrote a post sharing my sadness and my anger including this:

This is where I'm angry. Mass shootings happen ALL THE TIME. Outside of Pittsburgh, Saturday's shooting at Tree of Life will be likely be out of the news cycle in a few days.

This turned out to be partially true because we continue to see mass shootings regularly, so that becomes the new headline. Now, whenever a place of worship is the target, whether it was an Easter Sunday terrorist attack in Sri Lanka at several locations including three churches, or the shootings at two New Zealand mosques, Tree of Life and/or Pittsburgh gets included in the story. More recently, there was a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California outside San Diego, where the gunman was allegedly inspired by the New Zealand shooter. Fortunately, "only" one person was killed in the Poway attack.

Let me stop for a second here to mention that I started writing this post before there was a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch outside Denver in which one student was killed and eight others were injured. There was also a shooting at UNC-Charlotte last week. As an aside, in both of the school shootings, heroic teens sacrificed their lives to save others. It shouldn't be this way. Anyway, the focus of this post is intended to be on violence at religious institutions, though I'll circle back to shootings overall.

Going back to my October post, I was critical of President Trump for saying "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him." At the time, I wrote:

Four highly trained police officers were wounded when facing the shooter. There was certainly plenty of security in Las Vegas when over 50 people were killed at a concert. Why is it assumed that an armed guard would be successful in stopping someone with multiple guns including an automatic weapon in a surprise attack? Plus, why would we want to live in a country where we need armed guards at places of worship?

However, the reality is that it seems like we do. My synagogue recently conducted a campaign to fund security initiatives. This is a portion of this campaign announcement:

Since the tragedy in Pittsburgh, our team has been working hard to ensure that our building is as safe and secure as possible.

We intend to immediately begin implementing the recommendations in the security assessment report to include items such as: improved exterior lighting, locks on the inside of all the classroom doors, concrete bollards/planters near the entrance, improved security cameras, security go bags, an emergency alert system, and police security during high use hours, among other things.

Because these items were not anticipated, and not included in our budget, we are calling on the entire community to help us make this a reality. The security and peace of mind that our members and children are safe, cannot wait.

Obviously, this is not cheap. The synagogue and the number of members that belong to the synagogue aren't small, but we're not a very big community either. (Tree of Life in Pittsburgh in the 1980s was probably triple the size of my current synagogue.) In addition, police are now regularly at the synagogue, and I'm not sure who pays for this though I suspect the synagogue pays a portion as well as the taxpayers. It seems like there must be a better use of their time, but I'm grateful that they are there, and again, this is where we are, and it's necessary because of people like this.

I expect that additional security will be a bigger part of the budget in perpetuity for places of worship, particularly synagogues and mosques. The money isn't going to education or cultural events or even food (all events are better with food!), and someone (basically, members of the community) are going to have to pay for this. This isn't just limited to places of worship. This is at schools, malls, and many of other public places. I'd love to know how much the country is spending on security compared to education, infrastructure, or health care. (After I drafted this post, but before it got published, I saw this article in Washington Jewish Week about security and increasing attacks against Jewish people and institutions.)

The common denominator in all of the US shootings mentioned above are guns. (I'm sure some people will also say mental illness though it seems like "hate" is more prevalent than mental illness in at least some of these attacks. Besides, as I sort of just mentioned, we as a country continue to put less money towards health care which could help those with mental illnesses. This could be an entirely separate blog post.) We saw that New Zealand passed laws to ban military-style weapons after the attack there. While there will be lawsuits and court cases for years, I applaud Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and the city council for trying to do something.

Like my October post, I don't have a conclusion or a nice way to summarize my thoughts. I just want my kids to be safe at school and at synagogue and not have to participate in or worry about active shooter drills. I also just want people to pray and not have to think about their safety.

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