November 28, 2023
Dear People of God in the Diocese of Vermont,
I have been grieving ever since Sunday morning, when we heard the horrific news that Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad—three young Palestinian college students—were shot in Burlington on Saturday night while they were out for a walk. I grieve the hatred that fueled this senseless violence. I grieve the fact that the lives of these young men, who are about the same age as my daughter, will never be the same again. I grieve the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation.
Most of all, I grieve to think that the parents and families of these three young men sent them from Palestine to the United States in the belief that they would be safer here than there. I imagine that they believed, as many of us would want to believe, that spending Thanksgiving—that most American of holidays—in Vermont would keep them far away from the violence of the Holy Land. My heart breaks when I think of how we have betrayed them.
I add my voice to those of other leaders in our community who are calling for this shooting to be investigated as a hate crime, and I am grateful for the local, state and federal officials who are gathering evidence and considering a hate crime enhancement under state law, as well as federal civil rights charges.
As Christians committed to God’s vision of Beloved Community here in Vermont, we have work to do. We must acknowledge that racial hatred and violence are not problems that exist somewhere else, far away in big cities or in war zones. We must change the stories we tell ourselves about the safety of our communities where most people look the same and people of color and immigrants stand out. We must work to make our state a place in which all of God’s people are safe, and where elders of all descriptions can entrust us with their precious children.
Fannie Lou Hamer, the great Civil Rights Movement leader, famously said that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” As we pray for the young men shot in Burlington, let us also pledge ourselves and our congregations to making our beloved Vermont free.
Peace and blessings,