How Love Can Overturn Hate, Following Pittsburgh Anti-Semitism Murders


I am not Jewish. Either by birth or religion.

Still, I felt compelled to attend last night’s public memorial for eleven people who were murdered in a Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA. The service was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, where thousands packed the hall and thousands more stood in the chilly rain outside. Once I managed to squeeze inside, I thought how fitting that Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Nov. 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address are inscribed on its walls.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”

I live ninety minutes south of Pittsburgh. I still remember family trips we took there, beginning in the early 1970s. But more recently, one of my daughters reintroduced me to the melting pot that is Steel City, a place built and inhabited by immigrants from all walks of life. Thanks to her, I probably spent more time there during the last six years than all the other years combined.

So I felt the city’s loss keenly.

At first, I tried not to think about it. Then I learned that four police officers who tried to stop the gunman were shot in the line of duty. My entire adult life has been spent with and around law enforcement, so I felt a sense of camaraderie, for them and their families.

Finally, I heard that the victims’ names had been released—and I thought about all the people I had met during recent visits to Pittsburgh. Wonderful people, many of whom are Jewish. I recalled the warm and cozy times my daughter and I dined at Dobra Tea, one of her favorite Squirrel Hill haunts.

Given that, there was no way I could not go. Paying my respects was the least I could do.

I don’t hate anyone. However, I do hate the actions that some people take, like happened Saturday afternoon when Robert Bowers, 46, opened fire and killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Why did this happen? Because Bowers looked at those parishioners and saw only a label: Jewish.

It also happened because there really is evil among us. I know a little about evil, having covered a local murder here a few years ago. Evil is the only explanation for how two bright, talented and pretty teenage girls could murder a third teen who had once been a close friend.

Hate is evil.

Following the 2016 presidential election, my blog was one of the first about hate speech, a particular flavor of evil. I tweeted and blogged about two gay men who were the target of a hateful, homophobic act. (Ironically, I, too, received a few hate-filled tweets after I reported this news.)

Since then, hatred for people who are different than us has only increased. Especially is this true for those of the Jewish faith.

“Us,” as I use it, is anyone who aligns himself or identifies with, a specific group that spews hate speech toward people who are different, or with whose views they disagree. Not everyone who identifies with a particular label (think alt-right or even Democrat or Republican) feels or acts on hatred—but many of them do.

I know about hatred inspired by labels, because I grew up in a religious home. And while wearing that label as a child of eight, a woman chased a friend of mine who was thirteen and me from her porch—with a broom. About ten years ago, I was with a developmentally disabled youth, knocking on the door of another home, in a different community. In return, the man let his vicious dogs loose to chase us away.

In both cases, we didn’t speak badly, or retaliate, against either homeowner. We acknowledged that, while morally wrong, their actions arose from ignorance. Because, after all, we came in peace, offering a message of love. Had they stopped to listen, or think, they would have realized this. And perhaps our compassion would have won them over. I like to think so.

Hate only incites more hate. A person filled with hate for his fellow man will only spew more hatred, if that’s all he surrounds himself with. But compassion can change people. Even a hate mongering, conspiracy theorist like Bowers. So far we know he spewed hate for Jews and immigrants (whom he and some others have taken to labeling “invaders”). He did this online, at a social media site called “Gab.”

Given that none of Bowers’ neighbors really knew him and people who attended high school with him recalled him as a loner—if they remembered him at all—is proof that a little compassion could have gone a long way. For instance, mental health experts know that isolation is dangerous. Whether self-imposed or not, people cut off from family and friends tend to become unstable.

How could they not? Humans are tribal people. We came from family units, and were designed to be part of a society. That’s why people like Bowers are called anti-social. Another label, one that need not exist—if only people would stop and pay more attention to the outcasts and loners among us.

I am reminded that when the Jews and others were loaded into cattle cars and placed into concentration camps during World War II, they were known not by their names—but by numbers, and labels sewn onto their prison garb. A yellow triangle for Jews, a purple one for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the letter “P” for Polish prisoners.

Labels allow us to dehumanize our fellow man: white, black, Jewish, Catholic, straight, gay, handicapped, decrepit, rich, poor, or immigrant. What if we stop using labels altogether, and simply view each other as we are: human beings? That is to say, people from the same species, who are just like you and me.

We are all just human beings in need of kindness, especially now.

What if, every time we’re in the company of someone who appears different from us—whether we’re merely passing each other in a crowded crosswalk or sitting down in a classroom, sports stadium or movie theatre—we instead think: this person is my brother? My sister?

Or, what if we go a step further and speak to those strangers? Invite them for coffee or a meal? Offer them a shoulder to cry on?

Ah, but that’s when the power for change really happens. R&B musician Daryl Davis knows this. “Establish dialogue. When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” he told the Daily Mail in 2013.

I heard Davis speak a few months ago, while listening to an episode of Snap Judgment. I was fascinated as I heard the blues musician tell how he became friends with a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. That man later resigned his post. Why? Because through his friendship with Davis, a black man, that previously racist white man came to know a basic human truth: no matter our race, religion, gender, or ethnic background, we are more alike than we are different.

Knowing this truth, and then acting on it, is how love can overturn hate.

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Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!


Mental Illness and Police Incompetence Lead to Murder, Suicide, in Aspen

Years ago when I published The Deputy for West Virginia police officers, a question arose about what would be considered newsworthy. At the time, the board of directors chose to let me have the final say over editorial content. When a fellow officer was later charged with DUI, I chose to put that information into the periodical. It wasn’t to make the officer look bad; it was to show that the group was transparent. That it wasn’t going to hide bad behavior or look the other way when it happened. That the members would be in the spotlight if they did bad, the same as if they did good.

Transparency–we need more of that now. I believe most American police officers are of high-caliber character: they won’t intentionally break the law, nor tacitly condone fellow officers who do. That said, we have a national problem: police officers who believe a badge gives them the power to use needless violence against others, prestige that places them above the law, and a position that renders them untouchable by fellow officers on the “thin blue line.”

In 1993, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis said an officer’s conduct is not just about transparency—it’s about appearances. Davis, then in private practice, was legal counsel for the West Virginia Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. During a board meeting I attended, she warned officers that their conduct better be spotless both in and out of uniform. Because people are watching.

Her comments occurred after a deputy sheriff in Kanawha County was fired for domestic violence. In the August 1993 issue of The Deputy, Davis said the fired deputy “inflicted minor injuries upon (his ex-girlfriend) and also damaged her vehicle,” when the woman repeatedly harassed his family.

This is a good time to consider Justice Davis’ words, in light of the recent incidents of excessive police violence—and officers who simply overstep their bounds or fudge the facts. It isn’t about race. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it’s not what you want to do.

My next book looks at a case of police incompetence that borders on criminal behavior. You won’t have heard about it, even though it’s been in the news repeatedly. Of course, the media got the story wrong. Hopefully next time, they’ll think twice about accepting as fact the statements they get from someone wearing a badge. Even if a person wearing a black robe has signed off on those statements.

This police misconduct may stem more from inexperience than malice, but the jury’s still out on that. I’ll let you readers decide. Regardless, people lost their freedom as a result, and lives were ruined. That’s not something that can be undone.

Two weeks ago, the man at the center of this case died. We had only met once. I spent eight hours with him inside Arrowhead Correctional Center in April, but I wish it had been longer. That I had known him longer. I wish I had met Dr. William “Trey” Styler before his depression changed him forever. In February 2014, not long after her body was found, Pitkin County police pegged Styler, his wife, and one other woman as the murdering trio who schemed to kill Aspen resident Nancy Pfister. They were arrested within days and spent more than three months in jail—until Trey Styler confessed.

Guilt by Matrimony: A Memoir of Love, Madness, and the Murder of Nancy Pfister was in its final stages when Styler hung himself in his jail cell on August 6, 2015. He was depressed and had been suicidal for years. His widow and I have slaved over this book, trying to be accurate and fair to both Styler and his victim. It’s been a balancing act of the most challenging kind. Two very sick people, both at risk, who ultimately harmed themselves far more than they hurt others.

I don’t write books about breezy topics that make for light reading. I write about real people with real problems; serious, even life-threatening problems. I’m fortunate that Trey’s widow, Nancy Styler, chose me to help write it–and then agreed to let me tell this story candidly. Of course, if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have written it.

This book isn’t what either of us thought it would be at the outset. After my trip to Aspen in April, it morphed into something entirely different. I won’t give away all the details—but I’ll tell you that Aspen is no stranger to suicide. Which should have boded well for Trey and his wife, as well as Pfister. Instead, the people in Pitkin County, Colorado, ignored it, leading to two needless deaths. Not just one. And now we have a new ending, one that will surprise you. Then again, the entire book should, because it’s a far cry from the malarkey that’s been written about this crime.

I’ve given my full support to “the thin blue line” since I began reporting on cops and courts in 1988. Much to my regret, this book also reveals some pretty bad police and prosecutorial incompetence. Guilt by Matrimony reveals how the two, mental illness and police incompetence, played out in Pfister’s murder. It’s an important book. I hope you read it.

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In November, I will have five books, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!


Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”