Just days before a domestic terrorist entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and shot 11 worshipers dead, a white man gunned down two elderly African-American customers at a Kentucky grocery store Wednesday in what many are calling a hate crime. Fifty-one-year-old Gregory Bush opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, shortly after trying to enter a predominantly black church. Bush reportedly then told an armed bystander that “whites don’t kill whites.” As the community mourns, we speak with Kentucky Rep. Attica Scott and Reverend Vincent James, chief of community building for the city of Louisville and pastor of Elim Baptist Church.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the hate-fueled crimes that have swept the nation in the past week. Eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed Saturday in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history. The attack came just one day after a Trump supporter in Florida named Cesar Sayoc was arrested and charged with mailing bombs to more than a dozen of the president’s prominent critics, including the Clintons, the Obamas and George Soros. Law enforcement officers now say Sayoc had a list of over 100 targets.
But there was a third hate-fueled crime that received far less coverage last week: the murder of two elderly African-American customers at a Kentucky grocery store on Wednesday. Gregory Bush, a 51-year-old white man, opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, outside Louisville, after unsuccessfully trying to enter a predominantly black church. Now the community is demanding justice for what the Louisville [sic] chief of police has called a hate crime.
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AMY GOODMAN: Gregory Bush was captured on a surveillance camera trying to force open the doors of the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown for several minutes Wednesday, before turning his attention instead to the nearby supermarket, where he killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones. Armed bystander Ed Harrell confronted Bush in the parking lot outside the grocery store after the killings. This is Harrell’s son Steve Zinninger speaking with a local NBC affiliate.
REPORTER: So, your dad was confronting the shooter.
STEVE ZINNINGER: Yeah. Yeah.
REPORTER: OK. Did that man say anything? Or, how did your dad figure out something wasn’t right?
STEVE ZINNINGER: He didn’t realize it was him ’til he’d already seen the gun by his side. And he said, “Don’t shoot me, I won’t shoot you.” He’s like, “Whites don’t kill whites.”
AMY GOODMAN: “Whites don’t kill whites,” Gregory Bush said.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gregory Bush has a history of making racist slurs and a long rap sheet of misdemeanor charges, including domestic violence, menacing and making terroristic threats. In 2009, a judge ordered Bush to surrender his guns and undergo mental health treatment, after his parents claimed he had threatened to shoot them. Bush’s father has said his son, quote, “carries a gun wherever he goes,” unquote. It’s not clear whether Bush’s guns were returned when the court order expired in 2011.
AMY GOODMAN: Gregory Bush will face two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment at a court hearing scheduled for November.
For more, we’re going to Louisville to join two guests. Attica Scott is Kentucky state representative, certified anti-racism trainer. In 2016, she became the first African-American woman to serve in Kentucky’s state Legislature in 20 years. And Reverend Vincent James is with us. He’s chief of community building for the city of Louisville, pastor of Elim Baptist Church.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Reverend Vincent James, you knew one of the murder victims. Can you talk about what happened on Wednesday? Something that was not paid very much attention to around the country, first Bush’s apparent attempt to get into a predominantly black church, then going over to Kroger’s, the grocery store.
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Yes. Thank you, Amy, for having us on the show.
Wednesday was a very somber day. Somewhere a little before 3:00, all of us was in the office at the Mayor’s Office, and one of our colleagues, we heard her scream. And she was on the phone, and she was talking with someone. We really didn’t know what had happened at that point. And then, as time continued to proceed, we discovered that there was a possibility of a — there was a shooting, and there was the possibility that it was a family member.
Not really understanding and knowing what had happened, we immediately went out to the location. We had several members of our team there. And we later discovered that Kellie Watson, who is the chief equity officer in metro — Louisville metro government, that it was her father, Maurice Stallard, who had been murdered, and another woman had been murdered in the parking lot.
It was a horrific day, a sad day. And we are continuing to grieve through this process. But one of the exciting things is that we’re a very resilient city, and we’ve been working on some things, in terms of — out of Kellie’s office, as the chief equity officer, in terms of looking at these very types of issues.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask Representative Attica Scott, in terms of the reaction of some public officials in the area about whether this was a hate crime or not, could you talk about that and the judgment that people did or didn’t go through very soon after this crime occurred?
REP. ATTICA SCOTT: Definitely. And when something like this happens, the entire community grieves and is anxious and is stressed out, and often looks to elected leaders to provide some direction and guidance. And in this situation, we, as an African-American community, were failed by many of our elected officials who refused to call this what it was, which is a hate crime. When you kill two black people — Ms. Jones and Mr. Stallard — and you try to break into a black church, that’s a hate crime. And to have people at the local and state level refuse to even call it a hate crime sent a message to many of us in community that our lives do not indeed matter to some people. And we shouldn’t have to beg you to call this what it is.
AMY GOODMAN: We hoped to have Mayor Greg Fischer on; he had to back out late last night. But, Reverend Vincent James, you work for the mayor. Can you talk about —
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Uh-huh, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that, whether —
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — why the mayor didn’t immediately call it a hate crime?
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Well, I can share with you, the mayor did come out and say that it was a hate crime. He talked about the fact that this situation was driven by hate. When you think about — and I have the privilege of pastoring a local African-American church in the city and understanding in terms of what the community needs and the hurt that a community goes through when they experience this. And just recently, yesterday, Mayor Greg Fischer and several local pastors and faith leaders in our community sat down and talked with the commonwealth attorney, Tom Wine, and talked about this very issue of a hate crime. It was a horrendous hate crime. And Mayor Fischer acknowledged it. He identified with it. And he grieves with the community and the families. And so, he is very aware and very in tune.
And we’ve been working on these issues for the past several years, working with GARE, Government Alliance for Racial Equity, and putting together racial equity plans in terms of our community. One of our tenets in terms of when we think about our community is a very compassionate community. So, our mayor’s heart was grieved. He’s angered. But also, we’re moving to action. We’ve put in action plans, and we’re working with community leaders to begin to look at how this can never happen again in our community and how do we avoid these types of things. And so, as a community, we are very resilient, we are very focused, and we have a plan in place to be able to execute that this won’t happen again.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Representative Scott, I wanted to see if you agree with the assessment of Reverend James and also if you could talk about this whole issue of the “Blue Lives Matter” legislation that went through the Legislature.
REP. ATTICA SCOTT: We have to make sure that we have honest conversations about what got us here. And when we have a political system that passes hateful legislation, when we have societal issues around comments that are made, whether you’re calling young black kids punks or thugs, or whether you’re passing legislation like the “Blue Lives Matter” bill and changing Kentucky’s hate crimes law to now include your profession, what you choose to do, if you’re a first responder, including law enforcement, that sends a clear message across Kentucky about whose lives really do matter.
And then, this year, passing a so-called gang bill, that we saw in Mississippi, in the eight years since it’s been passed, that only black people have received an enhanced sentence from that gang bill — to have supported and then passed that bill here in Kentucky sends a message across our black communities and other communities of color that you are under attack by your own elected officials at the local and state level. And we have to have those honest conversations that say, “Wait a minute. What are we doing to make sure that we’re looking to restore people to their fullness rather than to incarcerate them so that we can justify building more prisons?”
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to correct: We had said the St. Louis [sic] police chief, but it’s the Jeffersontown police chief, Sam Rogers.
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We had said the Louisville police chief, but the Jeffersontown police chief, Sam Rogers, who told the First Baptist Church on Sunday that the shooting was motivated by racism, was a hate crime. Can you talk, Reverend James, about the feelings right now inside the church that Bush apparently tried to get into? You’re the reverend of another church.
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How churches are feeling right now? And also, this being the — one of a series of attacks this week. I mean, you have this man allegedly saying to a white man standing outside with a gun, outside Kroger’s, “Whites don’t kill whites,” like saying, “Don’t kill me,” or he’s not going to kill him.
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Then you have the letter bombs, now apparently 15 of them, sent out to people who are critics of President Trump, and then, of course, the horrific synagogue massacre that took place, that at another place of worship, in Pittsburgh, the funerals beginning today, with the anti-Semitic shooter who also linked Jewish groups helping immigrants and his fierce anti-immigrant hatred.
REV. VINCENT JAMES: Yes, it’s a very sad time in our country when we have these types of acts of hatred in our communities and in our churches and synagogues and mosques, when you think about all that has taken place across the country. But one of the things that — people of faith recognize the fact that these challenges are written in the holy word that these things were to come. And so, one of the things in terms of what we find and what we see as faith leaders, as community leaders, is that it is our faith that really drives us beyond what we see and what we experience, to hope; that we know that with people coming together and staying together, that we can change. We have to realize and know that this is not a time to turn on each other, but it’s a time to turn to each other.
And so, what I’ve seen across the faith community, talking with all kinds of faith leaders across our city and across this country, is the fact that we have a reality that we have to look at and confront, when we talk about hatred, when we talk about the rhetoric that is coming from our administration — a all these types of things that we, as a people of faith, have to rise above it and take action. You know, the reality is, is that it takes us as a people to recognize what is going on, and then we have to go to the polls. Next week is going to be a very critical time for our country, that we need to send a message that this type of behavior, this type of situation that happened in Pittsburgh, that happened in Louisville, is totally unacceptable, and we’re going to change. And the way that you change that is going to the polls.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend —
REV. VINCENT JAMES: And so, the faith community is rising above. Uh-huh?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend James, I wanted to ask you, in the same vein, for the — President Trump, after the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, said that perhaps armed guards were needed at places of worship. He said similar things after the Parkland shooting, that armed guards — or, the arming of teachers — he suggested the possibility of the arming of teachers. What’s your response to this idea that maybe houses of worship should now have armed guards as a means of protecting themselves?
REV. VINCENT JAMES: I don’t believe that houses of faith or schools need to have armed guards. You know, that’s not why we attend church. We attend church to be able to connect with our god and to be able to realize that our faith protects us. And even when challenges come against us, we know it because the word says no weapon will form against us. Doesn’t mean that the weapon won’t come, but it means in terms it won’t prosper, that it won’t destroy the hope and the resilience of the people, in spite of what challenges that we face.
That’s why, in terms of having armed guards, you have to be secure and understand the Bible teaches us that we need to be wise as serpents and gentle as a dove. That means you have to be alert and awake in terms of things that could potentially happen, but you also have to have a heart of compassion and love and forgiveness.
And so, when we recognize these types of things, we move forward with action and faith and hope, and knowing that these things, you know, have the possibility of existing, and we’re prepared, in terms from a security standpoint, but not from the standpoint of having armed guards standing at the door. I think that is to the extreme of what we need in our country. We need to talk more about how do we live in peace as opposed to living in fear and in violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Attica Scott, as a political representative in Kentucky, not so far away are the races in Georgia and Florida right now, taking on extreme racial tones. You have the secretary of state of Georgia, Brian Kemp, withholding 53,000 registration forms, overwhelmingly African-American. He is the secretary of state, and he’s running against Stacey Abrams. If she were to win, she’d become the first African-American woman governor in the country. And then Andrew Gillum, running for governor in Florida, the president just called him a “stone cold thief.” This followed a KKK-backed or some kind of white supremacist organization-backed robocall, and his opponent, DeSantis, telling voters to — not to “monkey it up,” right after he became the Democratic candidate. Your thoughts in this midterm election season, and then what happened this week, from Kentucky to Pittsburgh to the mail bombs that were sent out?
REP. ATTICA SCOTT: My thoughts are that we better not, in Kentucky, act like we’re immune from what we’re seeing in Georgia and Florida, what we’re hearing out of the mouths of politicians in Georgia and Florida, because we hear some of the same and very similar sentiment right here in Kentucky. We’ve seen the mailers that have gone out calling people radicals and trying to shame people and attack people, especially women who are running for office here in Kentucky. So we’re not immune.
And we’re also not immune from attacks on our right to vote. I serve on the committee in Frankfort that pays attention to the elections and to our Constitution. And even this legislative session, we had Republican lawmakers asking about how do we protect the vote, but it was coded language, the way in which it was asked, about what we can do, future-wise, in taking away the right to vote. So we’d better pay attention, right here Kentucky, to what’s happening right around us.
I also have to say that we need to be mindful of the environment that we create, that allows hate to thrive. On Martin Luther King’s weekend this year, Louisville allowed a gun show to happen here on that weekend. And this past weekend, a gun show happened right here in Louisville after the shootings at Kroger. And there were Christmas ornaments that were being sold with Nazi symbols and images on them. We are allowing that climate right here in Louisville, which is supposed to be a so-called liberal or progressive city. And when we allow that, we are nowhere near liberal or progressive.
And we also need to make sure that we are passing policies that are designed to keep guns out of people’s hands that should not have guns, and that we are very cautious about claiming that there’s a mental health disorder that justifies hate and committing a hate crime. And that’s too much of what I’ve been hearing these past three days about the shooter having a diagnosed mental health disorder. That is no excuse to kill two black people at a grocery store. And that is no excuse to try to break into a black church to commit crime. And it’s all connected, whether it’s the mail bombs or the murders at the synagogue, or whether it’s Ms. Jones or Mr. Stallard being killed at Kroger. It’s all connected. It’s all part of a system that has been created in this country over time, and it’s a system that we all need to work to dismantle.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Democratic state Representative Attica Scott of Kentucky, serving on the House Education Committee, in 2016 became the first African-American woman to serve in Kentucky’s state Legislature in 20 years, and Reverend Vincent James, chief of community building for the city of Louisville, pastor of the Elim Baptist Church.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about far-right violence, its connection to guns, white supremacist groups in this country. Stay with us.