Hate fuels matters of life and death

Stacey Newman

Stacey Newman

In April, six people were shot a Jewish Community Center near Kansas City, resulting in three fatalities. The shooter was a man with a history of anti-Semitism.  

Just recently, six people were killed and 12 others injured during a rampage at the University of California Santa Barbara by a man with a history of violent misogyny.

The level of hate that resulted in the murders of innocent bystanders needs to be a wake-up call to us all.  Sexism and anti-Semitism that incite such violence demand our immediate attention.

As one of two Jewish legislators in the Missouri House, I am especially sensitive to the needs of our Jewish community when debating legislation. However, my ears perked up this past spring when references to Nazis were made on the House floor during a heated debate on a labor bill.  I sensed immediately a new level of debate, which I had not heard before. I recognized traces of anti-Semitism where I least expected it.

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The following day, I sent a letter to all 163 Missouri state representatives describing my husband’s family history and those lost at the hands of Nazis.  I respectfully asked my colleagues to refrain from inflammatory comments and analogies to Nazi Germany, which do nothing to advance their argument and are severely inappropriate.  Many responded who wanted to learn more of our family’s story and were sincerely apologetic for the tenor of the floor debate.  I gained a few new friends who may have different views from mine on legislation but understand and are sensitive to hate when they see it.

Sexism is also alive in the state Capitol.  My focus on gender-based issues such as domestic violence, equal pay and reproductive health care make me alert when I see it. I’ve been addressed as “little lady” in hearings and consistently ignored on the floor when seeking permission to debate bills that predominately affect women.  I’ve heard similar disturbing stories from my female colleagues on both sides of the aisle and know I’m not alone.

Anti-Semitism and sexism however takes on a whole new meaning in 2014 when it leads to violence and murder, especially when mixed with firearms.  

In less than a week after the Santa Barbara murders, the hashtag #YesAllWomen  appeared on Twitter with more than a million tweets. Women and men throughout the country, including me, shared personal experiences regarding misogyny and violence against women.  The online conversation swelled as many condemned sexist objectification and intimidation as well as sexual harassment, abuse and the treatment of rape victims.   

But most alarming is that our community may be at risk.  The anti-Semitic murders at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, easily could have occurred in St. Louis.  The rampage in Santa Barbara easily could have happened at one of our universities.  

Turning our backs is no longer an option.

Richard Martinez, whose son was killed in the Santa Barbara shooting, recently said, “I think back — why didn’t I pay much attention to this subject before? Other people were losing their kids. I think, ‘Well, we’re all responsible.’ ”

He is right.  It is easy to think nothing preventable can be done, and then do nothing.

It is easy to dismiss Congress when lawmakers refuse to take up background checks for all firearm sales, which more than 80 percent of Missourians support.  We accept their excuses.  It is easy to dismiss the leadership in the Missouri Legislature who refuse to hear my universal background-check bill, which I’ve introduced the past two years.  A sad fact: The majority of our community doesn’t even know who their state legislators are, and many fail to vote in primary elections when most are effectively elected. 

Richard Martinez is correct. We are all responsible.

It is our collective duty to stand up to anti-Semitism and misogyny, knowing that words can incite and beliefs lead to violence. Richard Martinez is one more parent who has pledged to help other family survivors try to prevent similar tragedies from happening again – to us.

Ignoring preventable shootings is no longer an option.  Ignoring anti-Semitism and misogyny when we see and hear it is no longer a choice. 

Stacey Newman is a state representative for the 87th District, St. Louis.