‘Not again’: Tragedy unites Charleston pastor, Pittsburgh rabbi
An African Methodist pastor, dressed in a dark suit and white clerical collar, greeted a Conservative rabbi, wearing a black overcoat and matching fedora, in the lobby of a downtown hotel Friday morning. They spread their arms wide and embraced at length, the rabbi patting the pastor rhythmically on the back as the pastor drew him close. Words were not necessary.
The two men had never met, but for a week they have been bound by the unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations. The pastor was the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, who leads the Ema- nuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine parishioners were shot to death in a racist attack during a Wednesday night Bible study on June 17, 2015.
The rabbi was Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where 11 worshippers were gunned down during Shabbat services last Saturday.
When a virulent antiSemite walked through unlocked doors into a house of God that morning and opened fire on believers in prayer, the analogies to the massacre at Emanuel AME church became inescapable. Here within 40 months were two ruthlessly murderous attacks in the most sacred of spaces, victimizing minority communities – one racial, one religious – that share a centuries-long struggle against bigotry and persecution.
In both instances, the gunmen left a cache of hate-filled online commentary and eagerly volunteered their motives.
“I have to do this,” Dylann Roof, who was 21 at the time, told his African American victims in Emanuel’s fellowship hall as he fired 77 shots from a Glock semi-automatic handgun, “because y’all are raping our women and y’all are taking over our world,” according to survivors who testified at his 2016 trial.
Shortly before the assault on the synagogue, which police say involved four weapons, including a Glock .357, Robert Bow- ers, 46, explained himself in a social media post. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he wrote. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” After his surrender, he told a SWAT officer that he “wanted all Jews to die” because they “were committing genocide against his people,” according to a criminal complaint.
Despite what likely will be overwhelming physical and witness evidence, Bowers pleaded not guilty Thursday to 44 federal counts, including hate crimes that will carry a possible death sentence if, as pledged, the Justice Department pursues it. Like Roof, who was convicted and sentenced to death, Bowers requested a jury trial.
Manning heard about the Pittsburgh shootings last Saturday morning when his smartphone vibrated with a news alert. His heart sank.
“Not again,” he recalled thinking.
As Emanuel’s 9:30 a.m. service began last Sunday, Manning arranged for the church bell to peal 11 times in honor of Pittsburgh’s dead, just as it had nine times in 2015 in tribute to Charleston’s fallen.