When I arrived at work a couple of weeks ago as an intern at the Ignatian Solidarity Network, I was shocked by the police presence. There were four police cars stationed outside the front entrance to the building and one near the back entrance as well. As a small building in University Heights, Ohio, this was not a regular occurrence. I asked Kelly Swan, the communications director at ISN, about the additional security, and I was shocked by the response.
Our office shares the building with a Jewish community center, and people were gathering together to celebrate Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Due to the rise in anti-Semitism and the frequency of mass shootings at places of worship in the United States, the Jewish community felt that it was necessary to have heavy security on the premises.
I’m not sure why I was so shocked about this decision, as mass shootings have tragically become part of our lives as Americans. Defining a mass shooting as an incident where four or more people have been shot, an article from CBS News reported that there have been 283 mass shootings thus far in 2019. At the time the article was written, September 1, the number of shootings was higher than the number of days in the year.
As explained in a New York Times article, religious institutions have been recurring settings for these tragedies, including an African Amerian church in South Carolina in 2015 killing 9 people, a church in Texas in 2017 killing 26 people and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania, killing 11 people. Looking internationally, there have been recent attacks on a mosque in New Zealand and in a synagogue in Germany.
No wonder the people from the Jewish community center felt compelled to ask for security. I am deeply saddened and appalled by the fact that we live in a world where people are literally fearing for their lives in places that are supposed to be sacred and safe, a world where the mass murders of innocent people have become seemingly commonplace occurrences, a world where unjust policies have created conditions where people can act on their hatred and intolerance.
In the face of these instances of tragedies, we must not become disheartened. In the readings this week, Paul explains in his Second Epistle to Timothy, that we cannot grow weary in our faith. The passage reads: “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
These words speak directly to our pursuit for justice. While this constant loss of life has devastated our country, we cannot stop working for peace. With heavy hearts, we can understand these tragedies as sources of motivation to propel us forward into the struggle for inclusion and equity. These numbers must shock us into advocacy.
We must continue challenging our administration to create policies that protect, rather than threaten, the members of our community so that everyone is free to walk, speak, pray, and live without fear.
Josie Schuman is a former ISN intern and graduate of John Carroll University. She is currently a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corp at Boston College, pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while teaching 5th grade English. Josie is passionate about faith-based antiracist education and hopes to inspire students of color to use reading and writing as tool for social change.