Evil is real and it reared its ugly face again this week in a synagogue in Pittsburgh

By Joe Vargas

Police officers encounter bad guys, crooks and law breakers every day. But there is that rare group police encounter that sends chills up your spine and makes you glad there are men and women who stand between you and them. I’m talking about those truly evil souls whose hate manifests itself in truly horrific crimes.

We all saw evidence of evil this past week with the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. At 9:54 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2018a deranged gunman entered the synagogue and began a killing spree against defenseless senior citizens. Eleven people were killed.

Pittsburgh police officers and other law enforcement agencies responded en masse. Despite having taken gunfire, officers entered the building and engaged the suspect, who was wounded and surrendered. Four officers were wounded.

According to media reports and the suspect’s own social media postings, his motivation was simple. He hated Jews. It doesn’t make sense. But then again, evil rarely does.

The response by law enforcement was courageous and professional. Radio traffic by the officers demonstrated a great deal of effort at managing a chaotic scene even while being shot at by the well-armed suspect.

Evil also manifested itself in the mailing of pipe bombs across the country to politicians and journalists. Again, a person driven by hate created a climate of fear across the country. A massive response by law enforcement agencies quickly led to the identification and arrest of the suspect.

Whether by luck or ineptitude, none of the suspect’s package bombs went off.

Earlier this year, a former student at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 17 fellow students and injured 17 others in an act of rage. His social media rants were focused on his hate of his fellow students and others because of race, religion and sexual orientation.

We can never forget the mass killing in Las Vegas last year when a gunman killed 59 and wounded 422 in a well-planned attack. Frustratingly, the motivation for the carnage never has been ascertained.

Evil often can’t be explained. It can’t be understood, but we know it exists and it rears its ugly head with some frequency. The hardest part for those whose job it is to protect us from evil is its unpredictability.

The challenge for law enforcement agencies now is to intercede before these deranged individuals can act on their hate. Simply responding professionally and quickly is not enough to save lives. To keep others safe requires everyone’s participation. See something, say something works. We can’t continue to simply rationalize and explain away violent hate speech anymore.

Lives could be saved if we simply make the choice to speak out.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com