Sunday's shooting in Kansas City has reignited the conversation about anti-Semitism, hate crimes and how to prevent future incidents. Recent statistics released in an annual report from the Anti-Defamation League suggests that anti-Semitic incidents were down significantly nationwide. But is this a true reflection of societal changes? KSMU's Theresa Bettmann has this report.
The audit, released earlier this month, indicates a 19 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States in 2013, compared to the previous year. State-by-state breakdowns indicate that Missouri reports some of the lowest occurrences. Karen Aroesty is the regional director for the ADL in St. Louis. She cautions that while these annual audits are a "barometer" of violence against individuals, buildings and property, it may not tell the whole story.
"It's hard to draw broad conclusions, because I think that the nature of bias in this country is that it exists even if you don't have hateful conduct that goes along with it," Aroesty says.
The decline may be the result of fewer incidents, less reporting, or differing interpretations of a particular incident, says Aroesty. She explains that online hate has exploded over recent years, and that aspect makes it hard to gauge the overall affect. Aroesty says that finding a balance between the First Amendment right of free speech versus "hate speech" is a difficult balance to track or report.
Aroesty says education and support are critical at all times to reduce hate crimes, not just when something tragic happens. She challenges communities to take "individual responsibility" on how to do things, and learn from each other. She urges individuals to seek out people "different from yourself" and get to know more about them. In finding similarities, we begin to bridge the gap, she says.
"So maybe the hope is that more talking about this, more education programs in schools, more education programs for police around these issues, is helping keep the numbers down," says Aroesty.
The ADL sent a message warning against incidents last week ahead of Passover, Easter, and Adolf Hitler's birthday on April 20. Aroesty says that while "professional haters" often target symbolic days to accentuate their cause, communities continue to rally against their message.
"I got to tell you around this region remarkable people who are very much allied. There's a huge amount of interfaith activity that goes on even in very small communities, where people have pride in creating those kind of neighborhood relationships that are strong where people look out for each other—regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, whatever," says Aroesty.
Mark Struckhoff is the executive director with the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. He says this week for the beginning of Passover a group from the Interfaith Alliance representing the Council of Churches went to Temple Israel to be a presence of support.
"As we come into Holy week, with services Maundy Thursday night for many churches and places of worship, as well as Good Friday services, my hope that all people of faith will gather together on these High Holy days in safety," says Struckhoff.
Struckhoff says this time of year is a special time for people of faith, and feels that as Americans, we enjoy the freedom to gather and worship together.
Related: Springfield rabbi calls for peace following shootings.
Frazier Glenn Cross has been charged with two felony counts of murder -- one count of capital murder and one count of premeditated first-degree murder -- for the killings of three people in two locations in Kansas City on Sunday. The victims include two Methodists and a Catholic. Cross, who is from the southwest Missouri town of Aurora, reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler” as he was arrested Sunday.