As the various Seven Days events in Kansas City come to a fruition on Monday evening with a walk that starts at Union Station, I want to return to a panel discussion about "violence, community and faith" that took place Wednesday evening at UMKC under the joint sponsorship of Seven Days and the American Public Square.
And I especially want to focus on a point that Mark Levin, founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah, helped all of us see more clearly: The murders of Reat Underwood, his grandfather William Corporon and Terry LaManno constituted an attack not only on those individuals but also "an attack on the community." Thus, there must be a community response, which of course is what Seven Days is all about as its led by Mindy Corporon, Reat's mother and William Corporon's daughter, as well as Jim LaManno, husband of Terry.
The neo-Nazi who killed those three people came to Kansas City on that Palm Sunday in April 2014 to attack Jews just because they were Jews. As Levin told the Wednesday gathering, "The murderer was not looking to kill individuals. The murderer was looking to kill members of a particular community (Jews)." And, in fact, it turned out that the three people who died weren't Jews at all but Christians.
"The crime that was committed was committed against the Jewish people," Levin said.
That reality leads to the question of what legal actions it's possible to take against the perpetrator of such a crime, perhaps even beyond the sentence he received from the court for committing the murders.
"It seems to me," Levin said, "that there is a function of legislation that defines a society. And that function in this case has to say that there is such a thing as an injustice perpetrated against a people or against a community, not simply against an individual." The suffering this murderer has caused, Levin said, "is unspeakable. But what as a society do we want to say when somebody plans to kill not an individual person but a group. Is that not a crime and does not that have to be defined in the legal code and through the legislature in some fashion such that people will recognize that we as a society stand against that form of action and that form of mental attitude known as hatred against a group?"
In the aftermath not only of the Palm Sunday shootings but also a series of other antisemitic acts committed here and elsewhere around the country means, Levin said, that "the Jewish community is terrified. . .in a way that you never, never saw before." All area Jewish institutions, he said, have changed their protective procedures: "Those three murders drove home the fact that it could happen here and now."
Asked by panel moderator Nick Haines of KCPT-TV what should be done in response to this reality, Levin bemoaned the fact that in his four decades of serving as a rabbi in the Kansas City area there has been and still is isolation between and among different religious and racial groups: "People don't talk to one another in the community. . .People don't talk to one another seriously across racial bounds. . ."
But these 2014 murders, he said, finally motivated people to ask hard questions about the divisions -- racial, religious, economic and otherwise -- in the Kansas City area.
Much of the evening was focused on whether hate crime legislation is useful or needed. That was left unresolved.
But Levin raised the right issues about how society deals with crimes aimed against groups of people and how our community can respond in useful and helpful ways to the terror that our Jewish neighbors now feel. If we don't find answers to those difficult questions, the terror that the shooter wanted to plant here will continue to bloom.
(The panel in the photo above was made up of, left to right, Levin; Barry Grissom, former U.S. attorney for Kansas; state Sen. David Haley of Kansas; Haines; Prof. James B. Jacobs of the New York University School of Law; Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, and Rosilyn Temple, founder and director of KC Mothers in Charge.)
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TEACHING IMMIGRANT MUSLIMS TO BE AMERICAN, TOO
As more Islamic schools open in the U.S. (to parallel the Catholic, say, and Jewish schools), there's an effort to teach not just religion but also how to be integrated into American society, this NPR story reports. That's important for the immigrant stream of American Muslims, of course, but let's not forget that a large group of American Muslims are African-Americans whose roots in this country go back to the time of slavery.