Update: Since my initial writing of these thoughts, Burlington Police have arrested a 48 year old white male for the shootings.
In the late 1990s I was working for the Department of Residential Life at UVM and was tasked with developing a response to an increase in graffiti that, by today’s terms, would be classified as targeting others on a basis of their perceived identity. The University was still newly committed to developing a considered and consistent response to hate speech and I was grateful to be part of a department and division that was stepping up and into that commitment. As part of that response, we began to cover the graffiti during the pending period before it could be properly removed. We placed a poster over the area that clearly stated “Hate Happened Here”. We began the deliberate process of naming what had become unfortunately normalized as “typical graffiti” according to what it truly was – hateful rhetoric that did not belong in our residential communities. As more and more of these posters began to appear, we highlighted for the community how frequently the acts of hate were surfacing. This is important to do – to name hate even when it interrupts our protective narrative that it can’t possibly happen here.
On the evening of Saturday, November 25th, hate profoundly disrupted our neighborhood. Three visiting Palestinian college students gathered in our community from their respective campuses in order to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Though the investigation is ongoing, reports indicate that they had been speaking Arabic and, in response, a yet-to-be identified person shot them. This happened in our immediate community – on the streets I walk and amidst the houses I visit with the intent of getting to know those of you I am tasked with representing in Montpelier. Three visitors to our neighborhood were shot within shouting distance of the gathering spot for the Ward 1 Neighborhood Planning Assembly.
Hate happened here.
We must not disregard the identity of the three victims as merely coincidental within the context of the escalating rhetoric that surrounds the protests of the current war between Israel and Hamas – the war that is now so clearly destroying Gaza and the homes and lives of so many Palestinians. I can walk through campus on any given day and hear students talking to one another in their native languages. I frequently pass students who are on the phone talking to what I assume is a parent or loved one in the country they call home while they spend a few years at our institution and live in our neighborhood. Yet, in this instance, the hate fomented by the blame and scapegoating of the war has selectively and disproportionately harmed Palestinian American Arab students who were seemingly only speaking their language while visiting and walking in our community.
I will never know how it feels to identify from a community that has such a history of trauma from consistent periods of war and systematic genocide. I can only listen to and believe the pain and fear told in the stories of my Jewish friends as we witnessed the continuation of this cycle on October 7th when Hamas attacked and killed so many innocent Israelis. Similarly, I will likely never know how it feels to have my home leveled by a calculated and deliberate response described as a permissible defense. I will likely never know what it is like to lose my family and other loved ones while watching my neighborhood turned to rubble. I can only listen to and believe the pain and fear told in the stories of countless Palestinians who plead with us to do whatever we can to end this cycle of never ending war. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. asked, somebody must have the moral courage to end this cycle of violence.
What I can and must understand, however, is how the global violence is so obviously and directly impacting my local community. And I can certainly recognize and name how the resulting and accompanying hateful rhetoric has arrived home with the acts of November 25th in which three Palestinian students were shot. And we must act locally in ways that clearly identify this hate as precisely that – hate. We must act deliberately and with clarity to interrupt the rhetoric that precedes and fuels such acts as unwelcome and prohibited within our community.
Peace is a decision. Peace is the process, not the destination. Peace won’t suddenly show up once we have finally outlasted those that seek to perpetuate hate and intolerance. Peace arrives when we choose to act peacefully. And that decision is free. It’s war that is both costly and profitable – profit that is funded by keeping us committed to trading hate with one another. I can and I do choose to call on our collective moral courage to end this cycle of violence by opting for peace in this moment.
I call on those investigating this crime to conduct that investigation as the hate crime it so clearly appears to be.