(JTA) — A top Jewish community security consultant accused the University of Arizona of ignoring antisemitism as a warning sign in a case that culminated in the shooting death of a professor.
“Professor Thomas Meixner lost his life because antisemitism is not being taken seriously enough,” Michael Masters, the CEO of the Secure Community Network, wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday in the Arizona Republic.
Masters said the alleged assailant’s explicitly antisemitic threats should have been a red flag for the campus police, which, Masters said did not aggressively pursue criminal charges, and the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which did not file charges. The assailant in one text to a teacher wished “death to all Jews.”
“Too often reported violent antisemitic threats like these are dismissed as a byproduct of poor mental health and are not treated with necessary precautions,” Masters wrote. “More could and should have been done to prevent a senseless murder.”
Masters’ group coordinates security for Jewish organizations across the country, and his op-ed comes amid renewed attention to the work of security groups like his. Last week, a local security project in New York City, the Community Security Initiative, provided the tip that led authorities there to apprehend a man who allegedly posted online that he would “shoot up a synagogue”; when arrested, the man had a gun, ammunition and a Nazi armband. Previously, people who have received Security Community Network training have credited it with mitigating attacks, including during the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue last January, and the group says that its tips about online posts have also led to arrests.
Murad Dervish, the suspect in the Oct. 5 slaying on the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona, believed Meixner was Jewish and was targeting Dervish because he was a Muslim, according to Meixner’s colleagues.
Dervish, a graduate student in the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences, had received a poor grade and was fired last semester as a teaching assistant, although he was allowed to stay on at the school as a student.
Meixner, the department head, was a Roman Catholic, but, according to Eyad Atallah, another teacher whom Dervish threatened, Dervish refused to believe it.
“You’re a filthy kike lover who’s been deceived by them, but I really can’t blame you, they’re very deceptive,” Dervish said in a text to Atallah, who had for a time befriended him.
In a text message to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Masters said the Meixner killing showed how antisemitic violence accrues collateral damage.
“We must take threats seriously — no matter their motivation — and work to address them in a comprehensive, coordinated manner,” he said. “Had that been the case, one has to wonder if the victim, in this case, would still be alive and whether we’ll learn the lesson to keep the next potential victims safe and alive.”
The university expelled Dervish and barred him from campus but did not have mechanisms in place to keep him from entering the building.
The county attorney’s office said Dervish’s texts did not rise to the level of an actionable threat. His threats did not “meet the evidentiary requirements for charging him with the crime of Threats and Intimidation,” the office said in a statement.
Atallah told the Arizona Daily Star that he believed Dervish carefully phrased his texts so he could plausibly claim he was not directly threatening the person they were addressed to. In one text to Atallah, Dervish said, “I hope somebody blows your f****** brains out.” Atallah, who acquired a bulletproof vest and limited his time on campus after the threats, believes Dervish would have killed him too had they encountered one another on the day of the shooting.
It’s not clear how Dervish, who had been charged and sentenced to prison in other states for violent acts, was able to purchase a gun. He has pleaded not guilty.
Correction: This piece has been corrected to differentiate clearly between the Secure Community Network and New York’s Community Security Initiative.