While there was broad media coverage of the devastating hate crime killings of three people at Jewish centers in Overland Park, KS, the story of the powerful actions of local community members to respond to these crimes went largely unreported in the national media.
Young people take the lead in bringing people together
Four days after the attack, local teens led a candlelight vigil to remember the victims and affirm their sense of community. They were joined by more than 3,000 people of all backgrounds and ages.
Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) and Not In Our Town (NIOT) covered the teen vigil in this inspiring video, and are teaming up to follow community action in the aftermath of the attack.
The hate attack at Jewish Centers in Overland Park, Kansas
On April 13, 2014, the day before the Jewish holiday of Passover, an anti-Semitic gunman shot and killed two people at the Jewish Community Center then killed another at Village Shalom. The targets of hate were Jewish, but the victims—including 14-year-old Reat Underwood, his grandfather Dr. William Corporon, and Terri LaManno—happened to be Methodist and Catholic.
Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said, “Evil walked the streets on Sunday. His agenda was to create fear, to create hate, and to create dissention. And what he actually did was he prompted people to love each other, to show each other great courage, and to bring them together in a way that he would never have imagined.”
A community unites
Local students from Blue Valley High School honored their fallen classmate Reat Underwood, who was killed at the JCC while he was there for a music audition. Schools across the region wore white and stood together for community photos to show their unity with the victims and their families. Watch the video here.
More than 1,000 people gathered for an Interfaith Service for Unity and Hope at the JCC. Bishop Mark Tolbert of Victorious Life Church was inspired to take action in the wake of tragedy. “Our community needs to pull together. We need to become a committee of one to say Not In Our Town, we’re going to make sure that we are proactive rather than reactive,” Tolbert said.
Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff of Congregation B’Nai Jehudah in Overland Park added his voice, “There is great power at times in silence, but silence will not heal and silence is no solution.”
Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach is proud of how his community responded and hopes it will be a model for other communities experiencing hate and violence.
“This is something that affected people worldwide, and they all want to do whatever they can to help everybody in Overland Park,” Gerlach said. “It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re black, white, yellow, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, people say this shouldn’t happen and everyone is there to help you back on your feet.”
The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board encouraged community members to speak out against hate and outlined what should happen next. The editorial encourages community members to publicly denounce hate speech and to encourage federal and local authorities to monitor hate group activity in the region.
Kansas City Area Hate Crimes Task Force joins law enforcement and communities
Community members in Kansas and Missouri discussed the need for a hate crimes task force in 2011 after screening the PBS documentary Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness, that tells the story of residents of a Long Island village taking action after a local immigrant is killed in a hate crime attack by seven teenagers. After the screening, U.S. Justice Department Region VII Community Relations Director Pascual Marquez discussed best practices for addressing and preventing hate-crimes in the community.
Marquez proposed creating a task force of citizens and organizations that would be a resource for preventing, reporting and reconciliation of hate crimes. The Hate Crimes Task Force hosted a training for 250 law enforcement and community members in January 2014. You or your organization can get involved here.
KCPT, the local television station, and Not In Our Town continue to raise the issue of hate crime prevention in the community. In this interview, KCPT Education Reporter Lindsey Foat speaks with NIOT Executive Producer Patrice O’Neill.
Together Not In Our Town and KCPT are working on a documentary project about the attack at the JCC, and the actions of community members in the months to come.