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McConnell Calls For Death Penalty In Louisville, Pittsburgh Shootings

Michelle Hanks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says recent shootings at a grocery store in Louisville and a synagogue in Pittsburgh should be considered hate crimes and called for the death penalty against the accused gunmen.

Police say that Gregory Alan Bush killed two people, both black, at a Kroger in the Louisville suburb of Jeffersontown last week. Court records and social media posts suggest he had a history of making racist remarks.

And in Pittsburgh, Robert Gregory Bowers has been accused of killing 11 people at a synagogue a few minutes after posting an anti-Semitic message on a social media account.

McConnell addressed the shootings during a meeting of the Federalist Society in Frankfort on Monday.

If these aren’t definitions of hate crimes, I don’t know what a hate crime is,” McConnell said. “I’m also somebody who still embraces the death penalty, I know that’s kind of out of fashion in our country. But I think there are times it which it seems to me that’s an appropriate response.”

Officials have not yet determined whether the Louisville shooting would be officially considered a hate crime, though U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said last week that he was investigating whether it would be considered.

Police say that before Bush walked into the Kroger, he tried to get into the predominantly black First Baptist Church nearby. The doors were locked, in part because church administrator Billy Williams increased security there after the 2015 shooting at historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Bush’s criminal record dates back nearly two decades and includes charges of domestic violence, terroristic threatening, menacing and assault.

When asked if aggressive political rhetoric was to blame for the recent outbreak of violence, McConnell responded:

“I think the whole tone in the country needs to be ratcheted down and these horrible criminal acts only underscore the need for all of us to kind of dial it back and get into a better more respectful place,” he said.

McConnell walked away when asked if President Trump’s rhetoric needed to be toned down.

The shootings also come after several pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and CNN last week.

On Monday morning Trump placed the blame for the violence on news coverage of his administration.

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame… of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!” the president tweeted.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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