Editorial: Trump’s divisiveness, insensitivity provokes protests in Pittsburgh


Elise Lavallee | Contributing Editor

Emily DeFerrari of Point Breeze handed out flowers to mourners, holding a sign reading "antisemitism = white nationalism” at Tuesday’s march in Squirrel Hill.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Despite the wishes of more than 80,000 members of the Pittsburgh community, Trump made the trip to Tree of Life Synagogue Tuesday to pay his respects to the victims of Saturday’s shooting.

He was greeted by thousands of protesters gathered blocks away from the synagogue who stood in solidarity against his presence in Pittsburgh and the hateful rhetoric he’s spread while in office. This is unprecedented — for a president arriving with condolences just days after a mass tragedy to be protested demonstrates just how divisive and alienating he can be.

“All attention tomorrow should be on the victims,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said to local reporters outside the City-County Building on Monday. “If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead. I would ask that White House staff contact the families and ask them if they want the president to be here.”

No other mass shooting has provoked such an organized, angry response against a visiting president. When President Obama visited Newtown, Connecticut, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the community was united in their grief and had no reason to protest the president’s presence.

Similarly, when Trump visited Parkland, Florida, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year, he wasn’t greeted by protesters who demanded he stay away. There were protests against gun violence and against the president, but not in the days after the shooting.

Pittsburgh has been different. It has taken the City a matter of days to find ways to use its mourning to prevent incidents like this mass shooting from ever happening again.

The mass of more than 1,000 protestors wasn’t just Jewish people — they came from different communities, different political ideologies and different religions. Muslim advocacy groups spoke alongside Hispanic support groups in support of the Jewish community, and organizers from the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter joined, among others. These disparate groups have never before participated in such a display of solidarity.

While impressive, Pittsburgh’s necessary protest of President Trump shows how divisive he is. Residents likely would have planned vigils, but without the president’s inflammatory reaction, it would have never become a protest.

When Trump publicly said he thought placing armed guards inside places of worship was the answer to preventing mass shootings like this in the future, or when he disrespected the mayor of Pittsburgh and the Jewish community’s wishes, he forced Pittsburghers into the streets. For some cities, this could have been a moment of rupture.

“People don’t think of [Trump] as the comforter-in-chief,” Pittsburgh resident Barbara Zawadzki said at one of the protests. “He’s more like the divider-in-chief.”

Instead, more than 1,000 voices joined together in traditional Jewish songs of mourning, marched through the neighborhood scarred by violence this weekend and offered their support to Squirrel Hill residents.

“Today, we are here to model the kind of community that we can be when we are at our best,”  protest leaders Tammy Hepps and Rachel Kranson said at the beginning of the march. “A community that loved our neighbors, no matter their background, their religion or where they were born.”

Leave a comment.