Sunday, Oct. 27 marks the first anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that claimed the lives of 11 Jewish worshipers. It was the largest lethal attack on the Jewish community in American history. The murders continue to reverberate through Jewish and other communities under threat of extremism.
Since the Tree of Life massacre, a recent study published in the Washington Post has found that 3 in 10 American Jews have avoided publicly wearing anything that displays their Jewish identity.
Nationally, bias incidents and hate crimes directed at Muslims are significantly more common than in previous years. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are also rising across the country.
The hate-inspired carnage did not stop in Pittsburgh. The perpetrator of the massacre at The Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March of this year cited Pittsburgh as an inspiration for his heinous attack. The shooter at another at a synagogue near San Diego in April was similarly influenced by the Pittsburgh gunman.
In recent years, mass murderers also targeted African-Americans in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and the LGBTQ community at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
Latinx families were gunned down this summer shopping at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.
Minnesota is not immune from hate crimes and violence. The FBI reports hate crimes in Minnesota have gone up every year since 2014.
In 2017, Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington was firebombed. Last month, several East African-owned stores on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis were vandalized by a man driven by racist motives.
And in recent days, Mayors Melvin Carter of St. Paul and Jacob Frey of Minneapolis received racist and anti-Semitic threats.
Diverse communities have come together to address the rise in hate crimes. One such effort was organized this fall by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. The attorney general’s listening sessions have taken place in mosques, synagogues, universities and community centers throughout the state. Many individuals have spoken of their increased fears and sense of vulnerability.
Yet the sessions also provided hope and solidarity among those that often feel isolated in their struggles against hate, discrimination and bias.
There were two particularly poignant moments involving teenagers who spoke during Ellison’s recent meetings in St. Cloud and Minneapolis.
At the St. Cloud gathering on Tuesday night, Kayla Okonu, a 10th-grader, talked of harassment at school because of her racial identity. She shared her frustration with hundreds in the audience and asked for help: “I’ve had people call me [a racial slur], I’ve had people touch my hair. I need to feel welcome and I need to feel accepted.”
At a similar event at the Temple Israel in Minneapolis on Oct. 16, Gigi Stillman, another high school student, stated, “In a school where you are a minority, you often feel angst and anxiety when talking about your religion.”
Okunu and Stillman’s experiences are not unique and reflect the realities faced by many Minnesota students.
As state representatives, we are compelled to respond to these stories and many others we have heard over the past year. We are working on legislation to strengthen existing laws to address hate crimes, and assist community leaders and law enforcement through better reporting, officer training and stronger educational curricula.
The somber anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting serves as a call to action. Now is the time to summon the best of Minnesota values and help build a state that is safe, inclusive and welcoming for all.
Frank Hornstein and Mohamud Noor, both DFL-Minneapolis, are members of the Minnesota House.