|George Floyd - image from the NYT|
|Summer of 2016 in Baltimore at a protest decrying the death of Freddie Gray|
His name was George Floyd. His name was Eric Garner. Her name was Breonna Taylor. His name was Freddie Gray. All died at the hands of those entrusted to protect and serve. The police are not a single collective entity. Instead they are representatives of the will of the power of their local communities and constituencies. The best police agencies are about engagement and interaction viewing all people in their community as human beings. The worst are about enforcement and punishment, viewing select members of their community as the enemy. However, in both cases, police act according to what is expected of them by their leadership.
Many agencies are working to change this. They are training in concepts like implicit bias and working on fostering relationships to build trust through accountability. However, in places like Minneapolis and so many other towns and cities, like with Derek Chauvin, there is almost no accountability as the man had eighteen! complaints filed against him. All too often, for communities of color, they don’t call the police because they are afraid they will end up arrested themselves or worse, dead. This is part of what privilege means. I know I can call the police in any circumstance and they will come and protect me. I am so grateful to the men and women in blue, and I appreciate tremendously that they put their lives on the line every day to protect me and my family and keep us safe. At the same time, I also know that this is not the experience of too many Americans. Both can be true, and both are true.
African-American men and women are not the enemy. They’ve been shouting to the heavens for the powers that be to do something, anything. There is inherent racism in policing. There is inherent racism in the economy, in medicine, in education, in the community, and in the country. We just haven’t wanted to hear it. Worse, we haven’t wanted to believe it.
Not too long ago, I gave a High Holy Day sermon on the power and curse of symbols. When I spoke about Colin Kaepernick and his silent protest, some listened, others were offended at his perceived desecration of the American flag, a symbol of military sacrifice. Now those same voices are decrying the riots and the protests with words like: why don’t they just protest peacefully? It’s enough to make one want to scream, which is hard to do if one cannot breathe.
Jewish communities had and continues to have an imperfect relationship with our African-American neighbors. Two minority groups often in close proximity and often at odds with each other over scarce resources. There is certainly hate and distrust on both sides, and all too often we get into the who has suffered more Olympics; as if one’s pain and suffering negates the other.
The rise in antisemitism does not diminish nor offset the pain and suffering caused by systemic racism. Both can be true at the same time. I for one, have done a poor job in fostering relationships with my African-American neighbors. I cannot recall the last time I could even call one a friend. Yes I have participated in interfaith services and MLK services, but that has for the most part been the length and breadth of my involvement. In this time of quarantine, I pledge to spend more time not just on reflection, but also on studying and listening and learning as to what more I can do as a flawed ally.
The protests both non-violent and violent will eventually die down. The world will return to a sense of relative calm during these incredibly strange and difficult times. It is at this moment we need to remember the teachings of our tradition, “do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds” and “he/she who saves a single life, it is as if they save the world.”
In the meantime, my heart continues to break. Yet, as I sat with my family and watched the Space X launch, I was reminded of what we as humanity can accomplish if we set our mind to it. If we can send people safely to space, a technological wonder, surely we have the capacity to finally end the scourge of systemic racism and bias. Bad policing is just a symptom of the greater disease, and until we cure it, more people like George Floyd will continue to suffer and die at the knees of those who have decided to take the law into their own hands, even if they are the law.
Below are a list of recommendations of just some ways we can act