The horrifying weekend of gun violence has moved hate and crime, separately and together, to the top of the political agenda. More people died in automobile accidents this weekend, but the impact of the shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Laguna Woods, CA, cast a bigger pall on our national spirit.
Hate. For Blacks in Buffalo. For Taiwanese immigrants in Laguna Woods. So many questions. The practical ones: Where did the gunmen get their weapons? What were the signs? Should they, could they, have been stopped?
Those who preach hate will claim that they have nothing to do with those who heed their words. Ridiculous. There is nothing “safe” about speech, and certainly nothing safe about speech that pushes buttons of hate. We protect free speech not because it is harmless but because it is powerful. And we limit free speech when, as on Jan. 6, it incites imminent violence, threatening both life and property.
Somehow, we have come to accept white supremacists as having a place on the political spectrum. They should have no such place. Their rights to free speech should be circumscribed. It is not enough to have others saying they are wrong. The truth doesn’t always win. Love doesn’t always triumph over hate. And where it doesn’t, hate must be stopped in its tracks.
That doesn’t just mean stopping the flow of weapons, although that is surely important. And it doesn’t just mean more careful scrutiny – yes, at the cost of privacy, of those whose words and deeds could lead and encourage others to follow the path of hate.
Preachers of love deserve rewards when their listeners follow their words.
Preachers of hate – and I mean that term broadly, including those who preach on the internet or on cable or in the depths of the dark web – deserve to be condemned, punished, silenced even, when their followers act on their words.
Where is the accountability? Where is the responsibility? There are not two sides to hate crimes: There’s only one. To be against it, and to single out those who, by their words and deeds, bring out the worst traits in their followers. I have no doubt the loud mouths preaching white supremacy on television and in church did not want to see a rampage at a grocery store or a shootout at a church. I have no doubt that those who have been making slurs at Asian expense for the last two years were not seeking revenge in Laguna Woods.
But it doesn’t matter.
They must assume responsibility; if they won’t accept it, it should be imposed on them. Don’t ask President Joe Biden how he plans to stop racial killings; never for a minute has he preached the kind of hate that turns people into killers. Ask the right-wingers in Congress, who are trying to destroy the Republican Party, turn it into a party of losers, liars and haters.
It is right that Joe and Jill Biden go to Buffalo to stand up against hate. It is right that we in California stand up with the brave men and women of Laguna Woods, who tackled the killer.
But where is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader who says one thing to the Trumpers, playing their game, and another behind their back?
And where is former President Donald Trump, who fed these fires for four years and then lit the match on Jan. 6 that set an example for haters from coast to coast?
Hate doesn’t just happen. It festers and grows. And it won’t just go away, until those who preach it and prey on it go away as well.