August 12, 1999
Violence Strikes Home
As we go to press, there is one child critically wounded. An adult, a teen-ager and two other children escaped with less severe wounds. The scenes on television are so familiar by now that they unspool like summer reruns: the helicopters circling overhead, victims fleeing the scene, SWAT teams, ambulances, the tidbit-by-tidbit babble of the news anchors. It is familiar, but it is always worse with children. Always.
The rest of the world should understand the setting of this latest attack. A Jewish community center in the summer is alive with noisy kids, enthusiastic young counselors and hovering older staff. It smells of sunscreen and pizza. Parents come and go, waving as they tug their overexcited children through the ruckus. I know this because, at the time of the North Valley JCC shooting, my son, aged 6, was at his day camp at the Westside JCC. We parents find thousands of things to worry about in any given day. It never occurred to me to worry about him at the JCC. Now that joins the list. Repeat the new American mantra: No place is safe. No place is safe.
Five years ago, during the Gulf War, LAPD anti-terrorism experts visited area synagogues and other Jewish institutions and encouraged them to beef up security. Some places took the advice. Those that didn't will now face complex and expensive issues of how to, in Police Chief Bernard Parks' words, "harden the target" against the violence out there. JCCs have long functioned as campuses for preschools and camps, but have likely neglected the security responsibility that comes with being a school in today's world.
But will any security measures they now take make us worry less? No. The damage has been done; the circle has drawn tight.
An hour after the shooting, long before Buford O. Furrow turned himself in, we received word that federal and local law enforcement officials were already investigating the attack as a hate crime. It didn't surprise us. Last year, The Journal reported on a series of white supremacist-linked vandalism in Granada Hills and other Valley communities. Hindsight is 20/20, but experts from the Wiesenthal Center to the ADL have long warned that the step from a swastika to a gun is not as great as we'd like to believe.
But hate isn't the end of the story. At a press conference shortly after the shooting, Jeffrey L. Rouss, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, departed from his written comments to add a plea for gun control. So did the Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier and the ADL's David Lehrer. These men risked politicizing the moment, but it was a noble risk. Evidently, it can't be said often enough or loudly enough by enough sane people for our representatives to understand: Hate and psychosis are not unique to our country, but easy access to firearms is. Perhaps it is time for Jews from across the religious and political spectrums to join in lobbying for saner gun laws. Suddenly, assault rifles are a Jewish issue.
The Jewish community is stunned, outraged, anxious and grieving. We feel for the injured and their parents even more because we have walked those same halls, with our own children. "I'm in shock," one of our reporters on the scene of the story told me by cell phone. "My kid's Jewish day school is 10 minutes away. It's all so arbitrary."
She's right to be in shock. But she's wrong that these sorts of attacks, in America, in 1999, are all so arbitrary. On the contrary, they are beginning to feel inevitable. -- Rob Eshman, Managing Editor
Gene Lichtenstein is on vacation.