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Seattle Federation Shooting: One Year Later

Last Friday marked the first anniversary of the most traumatic day in the history of Seattle’s Jewish community. It was the day that a deranged Naveed Haq barged into the Jewish federation’s downtown offices, proclaimed his anger at Israel for its treatment of Arabs, and began shooting everything in sight. At the end of his rampage Pam Waechter, the campaign director was dead and five other female employees were wounded. The hatred and insanity of this massacre are garden variety as far as the world is concerned–this happens every day. But what isn’t garden variety is this community’s response, including the victims and the family of the perpetrator.

Seattle is a city that prides itself on its openness and tolerance and it proved it in this case. On the day of Pam Waechter’s funeral an Arab-American representative of Haq’s family hand delivered a letter from Haq’s parents expressing profound sorrow and regret to the Jewish community. The victims, in turn, did not shout for vengeance or the death penalty. In fact, several victims families said explicitly and publicly that they did not the DA to file a death penalty charge.

Layla Bush, most seriously injured federation shooting victim (Karen Ducey/Seattle PI)

Layla Bush, most seriously injured federation victim (Karen Ducey/Seattle PI)Layla Bush, most seriously injured federation victim (Karen Ducey/Seattle PI)The most severely injured victim was Layla Bush with bullet wounds to her abdomen and shoulders. One bullet barely missed tearing into her heart. She walks with a cane, cannot stand for more than an hour and has nine therapy appointments each week. Yet these are her feelings now:

“I just don’t want people to forget how much damage hate can do…Nothing positive comes from hatred.” Bush said executing Haq would be “too easy for him.” She reiterated that view Thursday, saying she favored life imprisonment.

In the aftermath of the shooting, “what made me mad is not him, but that someone with a mental history like that can get guns…” Growing up in rural Florida, she completed gun-safety classes and shot beer bottles off fence posts. She once owned a 9 mm Beretta. “I feel that handguns are made for killing people,” she said. “They’re not made for hunting.”

Think what an extraordinary attitude it takes to make the following statement about her volunteer work at Harborview Medical Center:

We answer questions and talk with patients who have just been recently injured,” she said. “It feels good for me to just give back. I feel like I’ve taken so much.”

Norm Maleng, the recently deceased Republican DA did not file a first degree murder charge. He reviewed ten years of Haq’s mental health records and determined that a lesser murder charge was more appropriate.

While one might expect the victims of such a trauma to refuse to return to their jobs almost all have (though several cannot work full time due to their injuries). The federation in turn has raised $1.3 million to entirely redesign the interior of its former offices so that the thoughts of victims or any other community member will not linger on that tragic day and space.

It seems to me that there are many places in the world where hate rages which could learn from Seattle’s example. It is true that shootings of this nature are extremely rare here so one might argue that we have the luxury of being able to respond to such tragedy differently. But are we really that different? I don’t know. It seems to me that a response to murderous hatred that offers more of the same is the easy way out. A response to hate that offers sober reflection and emotional engagement is much harder.


{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Melinda August 5, 2007, 6:59 AM

    Beautiful post.

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