Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation, addressed a congressional committee that came to Pittsburgh last week to discuss homeland security issues related to domestic terrorism.
Chaired by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the House Committee on Homeland Security held a public roundtable at the City-County Building on Sept. 4 seeking community input regarding what Congress should do to help stop mass shootings, such as the anti-Semitic massacre at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27 that left 11 Jewish worshipers dead.
Thompson was joined by U.S. Reps. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
“We’ve hardened these facilities as much as we can,” Finkelstein said. “It costs millions and millions of dollars. Homeland Security has a grant program, and we have been a beneficiary of some of those dollars in the past. It’s nowhere near enough to help us to make sure that our people stay safe. So I put that to all of you that are involved at Homeland Security.”
Other local leaders in attendance at the Pittsburgh roundtable included Mayor William Peduto; Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive; Bob Winters, protective security advisor, Pittsburgh district, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Coleman McDonough, county police superintendent; and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. Also in attendance was U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents the Pittsburgh area, but is not a member of the Homeland Security committee.
Myers called for a return to civil discourse and a tamping down on hate speech. Since the massacre, the rabbi has avoided the word “hate,” and instead refers to “h” speech, which he said, “usually will lead to violent actions as was the case in the Tree of Life shootings.”
He argued for policies that would bring about greater community understanding.
“When you don’t understand your neighbor,” said Myers, “it can lead to mistrust, fear, loathing and ‘h’ speech, which ultimately leads you to unconscionable and deadly actions.”
Several panelists agreed there was a need to control violent speech, including online.
“If it’s illegal to yell ‘fire’ in a movie theater, we need to create laws where it is illegal to say, ‘kill all Muslims’ on the internet,” said Myers.
Peduto, referring to mass shootings as an “epidemic,” called on Congress to enact stricter gun legislation.
“If it were occurring with any other item than a gun, there would be not only hearings like this, but actions taken,” the mayor said. “If we saw mass homicides occurring in cities because of toasters, we would have those toasters taken off the shelves.”
Fitzgerald agreed. “It makes no sense to have war weapons on the streets,” he said.
Schubert and McDonough both said that assault weapons did not belong in the hands of citizens on the street.
“Someone with a long rifle with a 100-round clip makes no sense,” Schubert said.
The committee will visit other communities devasted by mass shootings, including Charleston and El Paso, Thompson told KDKA. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at