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Twin Cities Jews commemorate Pittsburgh shooting by telling Bob Kroll not to be racist

Jewish activists gathered outside the Minneapolis Police Union office to condemn white supremacy, while honoring the victims of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Jewish activists gathered outside the Minneapolis Police Union office to condemn white supremacy, while honoring the victims of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Hannah Jones

Last year, a lone gunman burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, opened fire, and killed 11 people over the course of 20 minutes.

After he was arrested, he told police he “wanted all Jews to die.” This lined up with a series of anti-Semitic rants he’d posted online. It was the most brutal attack on American Jews in recent memory.

Now, a year later, Jews and allies in the Twin Cities are remembering the event and its legacy. On Wednesday, a small crowd of about 20 gathered for a vigil in Bottineau Field Park in Minneapolis.

The location was significant. Bottineau is just a five-minute walk from the Minneapolis Police Federation’s office, and Minneapolis Police Union leader Bob Kroll. Beyond being a vigil, this was a call to action.

“We know the forces behind [attacks like the one in Pittsburgh], and it’s white nationalism,” volunteer Naomi Hornstein says—a brand Trump has “emboldened” by his rhetoric.

The massacre in Pittsburgh wasn’t just about the gunman’s overwhelming hatred of Jewish people. It was also about the synagogue and Jewish nonprofits’ work to resettle refugees in the United States. The attack came days after President Donald Trump insinuated that a caravan of migrants traveling from Central America to the United States could have somehow been orchestrated by prominent Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

The anti-Semitic notion that wealthy Jews are secretly running the world is not a new one, and many of these volunteers recognized it instantly.

Over the course of the last month, Kroll has earned himself several strikes in this group’s eyes. For one, he stumped hard for Trump before and during his Minneapolis rally. The police union sold its own “Cops for Trump” shirts when they weren’t allowed to attend the rally in uniform.

Then there was the way Kroll reacted last week when a Jewish resident came to his office with concerns about the union leader’s support for Trump. Evan Stern says he called Kroll an “asshole” after the union leader promptly showed him the door, and Kroll supposedly dared him to say it again and warned that he wasn’t “wearing a body camera.”

Kroll told City Pages he couldn’t recall what he told Stern, whom he called “off, mentally,” but added that he too thought Soros was “behind a lot of the funding of the ultra-left,” including “Antifa and other protesters.”

Volunteer Dana Lipper says she wants the police—and Kroll specifically—to “disavow” white nationalism. That means more than just disavowing Trump, especially considering that hard data shows white people get stopped by the police proportionately less than people of color.

“I want not only for them to not be for Trump and not do horrible racist shit, but to stand up when that stuff is happening,” she says. She remembers where she was and who she was with when she heard about the massacre last year, and the fear she felt. She doesn’t want anyone else to be afraid to live in this country.

So the group spent this day of mourning and remembrance marching to the police union office, chanting and holding signs that read “TWIN CITIES JEWS AGAINST WHITE NATIONALISM,” and “Safety in Solidarity.” They huddled together on the sidewalk and prayed, and they placed a series of fist-sized stones—one for every person killed in the shooting—on the retaining wall outside the office door.

At no point did anyone from the union come out and talk to them, although the occasional car drifted in and out of the parking lot. But they left the stones where they were, in hopes they’d serve as a reminder of where they’d been, and why.