OUR VIEW: Don’t allow tragedy to divide us

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

As a local media institution with more than 125 years of history in Southwest Ohio, we are deeply invested in the wellbeing of our communities and ensuring residents and leaders are able to work together to solve collective issues. We are steadfast in our belief that our region is at its strongest when we are unified in purpose and action.

Over the last year, we witnessed a number of tragedies that threatened to deepen divides and fray the already-fragile social fabric of our communities.

On Monday, Nov. 20, a gunman wounded four at a Beavercreek Walmart before taking his own life. According to the FBI and Beavercreek police, the shooter “may have been at least partially inspired by Racially Motivated Violent Extremist (RMVE) ideology.”

Police had been called to the shooter’s home in both April and May of 2022 for suicidal ideation, according to Fairborn police reports. Both times he was “pink-slipped,” a process that involves detaining someone for emergency admission to a hospital for a mental illness.

Despite warning signs and laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who have received a pink slip, the shooter wounded four and traumatized the staff and patrons of the Walmart location ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Community leaders, policymakers, and individuals must work together to foster a society that values diversity and inclusivity, where differences are celebrated rather than feared,” wrote Sameep Singh Gumtala, a Sikh immigrant who was moments away from entering the Walmart that evening. “By acknowledging our shared responsibility and working towards a more inclusive future, we can hope to break the cycle of hatred and ensure that tragedies like these become lessons rather than recurring nightmares.”

That Walmart had nine years earlier been the site of the killing of John Crawford, a Black man who was killed while holding a toy gun. Crawford’s killing sparked protests across the region and Crawford’s family recently reopened a wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart.

On the morning of Aug. 22, a van driven by a Haitian immigrant went left of center in Clark County and drove into the path of an oncoming Northwestern school bus. Aiden Clark, 11, was ejected and died on the scene, another student suffered life-threatening injuries and dozens more children were injured.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

In the months following the accident, the greater Springfield community has had to confront public hostility towards the thousands of Haitian immigrants who have come to the city in recent years, many of whom are in the country under asylum or Temporary Protected Status.

Nathan and Danielle Clark, the parents of the 11-year-old boy who was killed, asked people not to associate their son’s name with the protests that appeared at Springfield City Commission meetings.

“We do not want our son’s name to be associated with the hate that’s being spewed at these meetings,” Nathan and Danielle Clark wrote. “Please do not mix up the values of our family with the uninformed majority that vocalize their hate. Aiden embraced different cultures and would insist you do the same.”

Other community groups have stepped up and called for an end to the vitriolic language that has since pitted neighbor against neighbor. St. Vincent de Paul has been the target of negative messages and attitudes for its assistance of Haitian immigrants.

“Clark County’s recent trauma from a child’s senseless death has created a wound so deep in all of us, a wound that is as cultural as it is personal. No one feels that pain more than those grieving families,” St. Vincent de Paul director Casey Rollins wrote. “We are all directly impacted by stressful events unfolding, troubling community reactions, and the ensuing turbulence in our community. Sadly, it feels like it has more to do with unfortunate pre-existing agendas in our country. Venting those frustrations through controversial, antagonistic, even threatening remarks and actions is causing visible divisions among us all.”

Global conflicts have also trickled their way down into our local communities this year. The horrific attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 reignited hateful rhetoric and violence against both Palestinian- and Jewish-American residents.

“The violence in Gaza is spilling over locally and is straining our day-to-day lives,” wrote Youssef Elzein, a local Arab-American activist. “The violence is putting both the Arab American and Jewish American communities in harm’s way.”

As contributor Marshall Weiss wrote in a guest column that appeared alongside Elzein’s, “The best way to support Jews and Palestinians in the Dayton area is to reject false ‘either/or’ narratives. Support and empathy for one people does not negate support and empathy for the other. All must reject fanaticism.”

With the 2024 presidential election heating up, we can only expect national polarization to worsen. But we, as a community of neighbors, are not powerless. We can choose to resist “us vs. them” and other zero-sum messaging.

Sameep Singh Gumtala wrote of a shared responsibility to break the cycle of hatred that pit us against each other time and time again. Nathan and Danielle Clark, after just losing a child, had the courage to speak out against a hatred they saw consuming their community. Casey Rollins of St. Vincent DePaul cautioned us against allowing pre-existing agendas worsen the divisions among us when tragedy strikes and we are eager to find blame. Marshall Weiss and Youssef Elzein both recognize the critical importance of empathy, even for those who hold completely different views.

As journalists, we are keenly aware that every year has its share of terrible events. It is our highest duty to report on these tragedies with sensitivity and to keep our readers informed of what is really going on in their communities. Our journalism is dedicated to seeking a deeper understanding of difficult, complicated issues. We know that these issues have no easy solutions, but we do know that, as a region, we are stronger together and better equipped to address them than we are divided.

However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season. We encourage you to take time to close out 2023 with reflection, compassion, and the intent to begin a new year with a level head and an open heart.

If you are struggling with events from the past year, know that help is available.

Where to go for help

A national hotline that is available for use is the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis line, where crisis resources are provided to individuals by a trained crisis counselor.

Local resources include:

  • The Mental Health Recovery Board, which serves Warren and Clinton counties, offers a 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 877-695-6333 or Crisis Text Line “4Hope” 741741.
  • The Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board’s crisis lines are 1-844-4CRISIS or 1-844-427-4747.
  • In Montgomery County, the Crisis Call Center can be reached at 833-580-CALL (2255), and it is operated by RI International, a mental and behavioral health services non-profit.
  • The Miami Valley Warmline is 937-528-7777 and is available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • In Clark County, the crisis hotline is 937-399-9500, and in Greene County, the crisis hotline is 937-376-8701. Thrive operates a Warmline for Clark, Greene, and Madison Counties. The Warmline is a phone number individuals can call to get immediate, anonymous 24/7 support, referrals to community resources, and transfers to 988 when necessary. The number for the Warmline is (937) 662-9080.
  • The Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, which serves Darke, Miami, and Shelby counties, offers a 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-351-7347.

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