The national news brought poignant remembrances of the Boston Marathon this week. Close to home, the news brought fresh, stark examples of the best and worst in human nature.
You need not look as far as Boston for evil. Look to Kansas City, where a doctor and his grandson were shot dead at the Jewish Community Center and a third victim died at Village Shalom. Frazier Glenn Cross, the notorious white supremacist charged with the murders, has been spewing hate for years, as St. Louis Public Radio’s Dale Singer reported.
St. Louis Jewish Light Editor Ellen Futterman interviewed Cross for a series on hate crimes published jointly by the Light and the St. Louis Beacon in 2010. Sadly, his rants sounded all too familiar.
“I don’t think at the time I found myself that worried about what he was saying. It sounded more like he was blowing a lot of smoke,” Futterman told Dale. “With folks like that, you think they’re a lot of talk. So when I heard about his actions, I was really shocked.”
Dale is continuing to report on hate crimes and hate group activity in the state. Unfortunately, Missouri has a long history of both. Cross' own record includes three years in federal prison after he and others were found with a cache of weapons near Springfield.
In an incident with some similarities to the shootings this week, Gerald Gordon was killed by a sniper in 1977 outside Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel in Richmond Heights. Last fall, the state executed Joseph Paul Franklin for the murder, part of a cross-country spree of attacks on African Americans and Jews.
Looking even further back, Missouri was once home to James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King’s assassin. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that there may have been a conspiracy involving two St. Louis-area men and that Ray may have thought he would receive a $50,000 bounty.
Is it fair to connect separate hate crimes and hate groups in the state into an arc that stretches across decades? After all, many of the episodes and individuals are not directly linked, and almost all Missourians abhor the hate mongers among us. Still, what happened this week near Kansas City is not simply the random act of one misguided individual; it's the latest eruption from a subculture of hate.
If there is any consolation in evil, it is that evil often prompts acts of selfless courage and good will. In Boston, bystanders risked their own safety to save others in the moments after the explosions. This week, St. Louis Public Radio's Nancy Fowler reported on how eighth grader Kalise Harris showed a different kind of courage. In a brave and honest poem, Kalise shared her feelings about the death of her best friend, who committed suicide after being teased about being homeless.
“I felt like it was all my fault that it happened. I felt like I didn’t help her enough that I didn’t listen to her. Sometimes I still look back and think I could have helped more,” Kalise told Nancy. Kalise poured her feelings into the poem – the winning entry last year in a poetry contest for seventh graders and a powerful testament against bullying. “I used to hold in emotions but writing can let everything out,” Kalise said.
The founder of that contest, Aaron Williams, is himself an inspiration. He started the contest because he “believes 12- and 13-year-olds – standing at the threshold of maturity – have a lot to tell us,” Nancy wrote. Williams is selling his quirky collection of art, all related to the game of croquet, to raise money for the poetry foundation.
Often, people think of news as the straightforward recounting of facts. That's true as far as it goes. But news matters when the facts reveal something deeper. This week, the news revealed something about hate and the courage to confront it. Our world and the human heart are capable of both.