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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Michael Barclay

On Remembering Paul Kessler and Centering the Community

After reviewing over 600 pieces of evidence, interviewing over 60 witnesses, and spending over 2000 man hours in the last week and a half investigating the death of Paul Kessler, the Ventura County Sheriff arrested Loay Alnaji yesterday morning. Today, he was arraigned and charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony battery. There are also potential additions that would enhance both charges and add more strikes under the California Three Strikes law.

They are still investigating the possibility of Paul’s death being a “hate crime" but, at this time, no such charge is being made. To charge him with a hate crime, they would need video (which they are still seeking) that demonstrates his hate in that moment and ties it to the violent act. The 1st Amendment guarantees the right of political speech, and it is difficult to determine that it crossed over into hate speech without either a video or a group of witnesses that are in agreement. One of the challenges with this case is that the eyewitnesses convey very different stories. So, while they are still investigating, no hate crimes are being added to the other two enhanced charges at this time.

It will be months before we see this case in court, during which time the police will keep investigating. We are very blessed here in Ventura County to have our District Attorney and law enforcement work well together hand in hand. But what are some of the lessons we can take right now from the tragedy of Paul Kessler’s death?

The most obvious lesson is to stop counter-protesting. No one’s mind is going to be changed by yelling at an opposing group across the street. In a private meeting with local clergy before the press conference today, Sheriff Fryhooff phrased it well: “Don’t go. Just stay away from these things.”

The Sheriff is right; these events are attempts to create chaos, and showing up to counter-protest just plays into their hands of inciting violence. They want violence, as can so clearly be seen in this article by Jennifer Van Laar on RedState.

If you desire to gather together and demonstrate publicly, then do it as a separate event with your own agenda in your own location, not as a counter-protest. You will accomplish more, and be safer. If Paul Kessler had remembered that advice, he might be alive today to debate its merit.

Another lesson that we must take away from this journey we all have gone through since Paul’s death is that most issues are, and should be, local. Local communities know better than national organizations. While the last 11 days have been a national whirlwind of demands upon our police to charge Alnaji, those us who live in this community have known that we can trust our neighbors and local officials. While Jewish organizations around the country and world were screaming for “justice," those of us who know Sheriff Fryhoff and Police Chief Parus knew that they would be methodical and do the right thing. Jewish individuals and organizations raised hundreds of thousands of dollars or more on the death of Paul Kessler by claiming that they would fight for justice in Westlake Village… and most of them probably couldn’t even find this suburb on the map. This all demonstrates that it is usually better to trust localities over media and personal relationships over federal government mandates.

Granted there are times when there is corruption or prejudice locally, and it is appropriate for national pressure and authorities to get involved. But America is built on the concept of our individual states being unique and connected rather than being the tool of a centralized federal government. The founders of this nation were aware of the dangers of a too-centralized a federal government leading to authoritarianism.

What we just experienced and will continue to see in the coming months is the importance of local relationships and politics. It is said that all politics are local, and Paul’s death reminds us that we must be involved locally in our communities, houses of worship, and friendships. We in Westlake know what is needed here; and our community is different than Manhattan or Boise. Unless they are contradictory to the Constitution or against accepted laws of decency, we all need to respect each other’s community values and practices.

This tragedy is a reminder of the strength of localities, and the importance to be involved. In many ways, more can be accomplished to further your values by being on the local school board, running for Sheriff, District Attorney, or another local office than can be accomplished in Washington. George Soros has devastated this country by funding campaigns for local D.A.s in large cities, allowing crime to run rampant and making many big cities unsafe. If we can control the local environments, we can effect real change in recovering this nation.

And we can begin to once again trust the government, as we personally know the officials and they live among us.

I have said the same thing since the event: we need to trust the local authorities. Today, we all saw that trust was well-placed. We now need to trust District Attorney Erik Nasarenko, another good man who seeks justice, actively pursues it, and is committed to defending our Constitution. I have faith he will see justice served, and I ask that the nation has faith in him as well.

Paul Kessler didn’t need to die, and his story is a tragic one. But if we get involved locally, his death will not be wasted but lead to something better. A few years ago, Paul wrote an email to me after the tragedy in Texas in November of 2017. He wrote words that we all need to remember, both in his honor and to make our world better.

After each one of these tragedies, we ask for "prayers and thoughts" to go to the victims and their families. And yet, they continue. Even if we subscribe to Rabbi Kushner's position that there is a randomness in the universe, action, especially in this regard, would be more effective in preventing the need for more thoughts and prayers.

He was right. We need action in combination with our words and prayers. We need to act by being involved in local government and trusting in the values of our communities.


May we soon see the day when we again have faith in our government, first locally, and then, with God’s guidance, nationally.

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