News & Views

Reflections on two tragedies

“We live in a strange time marred by misery
Pure hearts are taken from us daily”

Osama Herkel, one of our former clients, wrote those words after the Tree of Life Tragedy which occurred two years ago today. But before I could collect my thoughts about that tragedy, yet another one in a seemingly endless string assaulted my senses. Walter Wallace, Jr., beloved son, husband, father and brother, was shot to death by law enforcement. 

Let me say that again, shot to death by law enforcement. How can we continue to use this label for what is clearly armed and violent lawlessness? Yes, we know the police were called to the scene because of a disturbance, and we know that the victim of the shooting had a knife and we know that he was agitated, suffering, perhaps, from mental illness. And we also know that addressing the concerns raised by this young man is not simple or easy. But none of that justifies or explains killing. Members of a law enforcement squad should enforce the law, not violate it.  Until police learn that violence and lawlessness begets only violence and more lawlessness, not community or personal safety, until police recognize explicitly that their failure to recognize and treasure the humanity of the people they are killing, things will not change.

Yesterday, I returned to Osama Herkel’s poem as I thought about how to memorialize the deaths of eleven “pure hearts” taken from us when a white supremacist attacked a congregation celebrating a Refugee Shabbat, linking his anti-Semitism explicitly with his anti-immigrant sentiment. Today, I am forcibly reminded – as if I could ever forget – that lawlessness and violence begins with those we put in power and allow to define who is a “pure heart”. Black and brown lives and the lives of those who support them are under siege because those we put in power believe that those lives – and those hearts – are somehow lesser. We MUST stop pretending that this is not the case, that overly violent and lawless responses that result in death are somehow ok in the name of “law and order”. 

We must take action so that senseless deaths, whether in mass shootings or police shootings no longer happen. We must take action to ensure that those who need help are helped, especially those in mental health crises, and not demonized or killed by those who are supposed to protect.

If you haven’t yet, please vote. And if righteously protesting, make sure that those that are out there with you in order to vote, are protected, encouraged and permitted to safely vote. Our humanity depends on it. 

And after that, join us and the organizations around the country working towards an anti-racist society.  

HIAS Pennsylvania is open for businessHIAS PA is open to new clients by phone only. Call 215-832-0900 to get immigration legal help.