Pittsburgh rallies, unites against hate


Bader Abdulmajeed | Staff Photographer

Mayor Bill Peduto speaks about the relationship between hate speech and hate crimes at the “Unite Against Hate” rally Wednesday evening.

By Dylan Giaccobe, Staff Writer

When President Donald Trump visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday in the aftermath of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stayed far away – as did many other local elected officials.

But a student-organized Unite Against Hate rally in Schenley Plaza Wednesday night brought the Mayor to Oakland to speak about how our city and country can move forward amid tragedies like these.

“This darkness isn’t just going to dissipate and go away after the last funeral,” Peduto said to more than 100 students gathered in Schenley Plaza. “There are ways that you can change things — vote not quite all of them out.”

The campus event came after numerous vigils and protests in response to President Trump’s response to the shooting and subsequent visit to Pittsburgh.

Ritika Bajpai, SGB Community and Governmental Relations Chair, is one of the Students Demand Action members who helped organize the rally. She explained that she and SDA felt it was necessary to put on the event following the shooting.

“We just knew we had to do it,” Bajpai said, “We knew we wanted to do something in memory of the victims.”

Beyond its desire to provide remembrance for the victims, Students Demand Action also wanted to use the event as an outlet to encourage political change. A few tables were set up around the edges of the event where audience members were told they could go for information about voting on Nov. 6.

“Since midterms are coming up, we wanted to show that we need to stop this from happening in the future,” Bajpai said, “No more just thoughts and prayers.”


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor
Participants listen to a prayer for the Tree of Life shooting victims at the “Unite Against Hate” rally Wednesday evening.


The rally began with a moment of silence and two Hebrew prayers for those lost in the shooting. Some audience members held plastic candle lights and small posters saying “Disarm Hate.” The front of the stage was decorated with various signs protesting gun violence, hate and anti-Semitism.

After the moment of silence and introduction, featured speakers from Pitt, Chatham University, the Jewish community and other policy-focused interest groups presented personal speeches to the audience. These speeches discussed the shooting and its effects on the community, using these points to address how such acts of violence can be prevented in the future.

Kathryn Fleisher, a Pitt sophomore studying politics and philosophy, spoke at the event rally as its last planned speaker. She discussed the difficulty and pain she is feeling as a member of the Jewish community following the shooting, examining how the shooting and the hate that catalyzed it are intertwined.

“We cannot talk about the tragic shooting as being an anti-semitic issue without talking about it being about gun violence,” Fleisher said. “We cannot break the cycle of hate without also breaking the cycle of violence. We’re here to end both.”

As her speech progressed, Fleisher put forth the political action she seeks and encourages others to take to create change in the community and the country, stressing the election of new politicians in favor of gun reform.

“What I want more than anything else is for you to vote,” Fleisher said. “I want you to vote out every single elected official … that refuses to unequivocally denounce white nationalism and not enforce universal background checks, because we deserve better than that.”

For Fleisher, political action has been healing over the past five days.

“I felt like myself for the first time since the shooting,” Fleisher said after her speech. “Putting this event together and being able to put my feelings into words, and then to bring my words to a room full of people made me feel alive and powerful in a way the shooting took away from me.”

Students, adults and community members in the crowd applauded and cheered the speakers as they discussed gun reform and the eradication of anti-Semitism in the city.

Peduto closed the event with a speech offering condolences and a strong denouncement of the anti-Semitism-fueled synagogue attack. He looked to explain how hateful sentiments such as anti-Semitism can grow and manifest into hateful acts.

“Hate speech creates hate crimes,” Peduto said. “There is a direct correlation.”

Mayor Peduto continued to analyze how communities must tackle the hate within, and said hate cannot be fought with more hate.

“You can’t out-hate hate. You can’t fight back,” Peduto said. “You’ve got to be able to fight it with love … you have to be able to stop it at the very beginning.”

Mayor Peduto explained how through the activism and voting of members of the Pittsburgh community, further hate and violence can be rooted out.

“It’s not going to come from Colorado or California or New York, it is going to come from Pittsburgh and it’s going to be a message that we will eradicate hate, and every part of it.”

The event concluded with Mayor Peduto’s reaffirmation to the audience of the strength of the Pittsburgh community after the shooting.

“We are Pittsburgh,” Peduto said. “We are stronger than steel and we are stronger than hate.”