It surrounds us.
It’s anger. It’s animosity. It’s resentment. It’s hostility.
What breeds this deep-seated darkness?
The number of hate groups in the U.S. and Ohio are on the rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Ohio had 36 hate groups in 2018 compared to 31 in 2017 and 23 in 2008. In the U.S., there were 926 hate groups in 2008 and 1,020 in 2018. This year, the SPLC is tracking 1,600 extremist groups operating across the country. They include domestic hate groups, neo-Nazi groups, neo-Confederate groups, racist skinheads, black separatists, anti-government militias, alt-right groups, anti-Semitic groups, anti-LGBTQ groups.
Why is hate on the rise? The economy is doing well. Employment is at record levels.
We gather statistics and analyze situations, but still the reasons and solutions elude us.
We see hate in schools when children are bullied by their peers. We see signs of hate when people object to the building of a mosque, disparage immigrants, desecrate synagogues or utter degrading remarks to individuals of color.
There are, sadly, too many examples of hate-driven violence to name.
The consequences of hate became all too personal when three teenagers were fatally shot and two injured by another student in 2012 at Chardon High School.
Last year, 14 students and three adults were killed in a shooting rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The gunman, a former student, had a Nazi symbol on his backpack and suspected fascinations with racist icons.
A Shabbat morning service at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh turned tragic last fall when a gunman entered the synagogue and fatally shot 11 people and injured seven. Just last week, a man with a semi-automatic weapon murdered 50 people and injured 50 others attending Friday prayers at two mosques in New Zealand.
But from those tragedies we see hope.
After the Pittsburgh shootings, Jews, Christians and Muslims from all over Northeast Ohio stood side-by-side in prayer mourning the loss of those innocent souls. They gathered as one community, united against hate. They shared their sense of confusion, frustration and profound sadness.
Last weekend in Solon, more than 200 people stood outside in the cold around the Solon gazebo holding signs against violence and hate. Though New Zealand is on the other side of the globe, people in the crowd clearly felt the sting of death and reached out for guidance from spiritual leaders.
Reciting a biblical prayer, Rabbi Scott Roland told the crowd, “We will build this world from love.”
“We must drown out the terror in the world with acts of love, kindness and generosity,” Pastor Jim Lewis of Solon Advent Lutheran Church said.
“Stand together,” the Rev. Hamilton Throckmorton of the Federated Church in Chagrin Falls said.
Masroor Malik of the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center, the group hosting the vigil, was “shocked and choked up” upon hearing about the New Zealand tragedy and appreciative of the support from local clergy and residents.
There is reason for optimism. The outpouring of love and respect that we have seen here in our communities demonstrates that we can stand as one, we can speak out for others and we can support our neighbors openly and fearlessly.
Each and every one of us needs to fill our hearts with love and treat everyone with dignity and respect.