News of the arrest and extradition of Tobias Summers, fugitive suspect in a highly-publicized sexual assault case, overwhelmed an interfaith press conference on Wednesday, April 24, on the steps of LA’s city hall. Called by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and joined by Mayor Villaraigosa, the purpose for the press conference was to announce a unified partnership with the Los Angeles City-wide interfaith religious community in denouncing terrorism and violence.
Mayor Villaraigosa noted that Los Angeles is the most religiously diverse city in the world and thanked the faith representatives present for their support in countering prejudice. In the aftermath of the bombing in Boston, “the LAPD took quick and decisive action to ensure our community was safe” said Chief Beck. “The Department reached out to our partners and dedicated extra security measures to our interfaith community and all large venues. We will continue to provide this support during upcoming events.”
Police Chief Beck also took the opportunity to update the public on the capture of Summers, 30, at a treatment facility near a Mexican village north of Ensenada in Baja California and his extradition to Los Angeles. Summers had been on the run for nearly a month following the abduction and sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl in Northridge, Ca.
The arrest in the scandalous assault case was welcome news but diverted public attention from the larger issue of religious prejudice in the wake of the carnage in the Boston Marathon-bombing last week, no less scandalous and considerably more violent. Word of Summer’s capture and extradition to face justice went viral while information on the press conference about combatting terrorism amidst religious bigotry was hard to locate anywhere, in print or online.
While the public can breathe a little easier knowing that a dangerous predator is now in custody, can any of us rest easy knowing that segments of humanity hope to terrorize us all in the interest of publicizing their respective religious grievances? It’s difficult to compare one family’s tragedy to a nation’s broader anxiety but in a larger sense, maybe the two things are related after all.
In a strange twist of human behavior, sexual violence has little to do with gratification and more to do with the expression of power and dominance over others. Likewise, terrorism, though difficult to define with precision, can at least be viewed as the use of violence to leverage fear to achieve goals and a projection, however desperate, of power. The former assaults the individual and is driven by personal motives, the latter assaults society at large and is fueled politically. Sometimes both things conspire in one egregious assault on humanity’s collective sensibility, as in sexual slavery, human trafficking or forced pregnancy of the kind practiced in the Balkans or parts of Africa.
Still, it’s a shame there wasn’t more reporting on the interfaith press conference. Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center movingly addressed the need for tolerance, Nirinjin Singh Khalsa from the Sikh Council of Southern California posed the problem as every individual’s responsibility to choose good over evil and Salam Al-Marayati from the Muslim Public Affairs Council offered commentary on the triumph of the “theology of life over the cult of death.” The hard part is to get people to listen.