Tag Archives: police brutality

The Derek Chauvin Verdict and the Work Ahead

On Tuesday afternoon, like so many of us, I spent an hour anxiously waiting for the Derek Chauvin verdict to be announced, after which I connected with others to share our reflections. A dear colleague shared that recently they had been feeling that if they can’t fix all the things in our world that are broken, why even try? Why not just give up amidst the heartbreak and the overwhelming demand put on our moral compasses?

Still, amidst the despair, there was that moment, in the first hour after the verdict, when so many of us had an initial reaction of relief, thanking God that a measure of justice was achieved.

And then we pulled back and reflected on the larger scope of what was happening. That this was not justice. Justice would be George Floyd being alive today. This was accountability for one officer who had committed murder. Justice would be a world in which this conviction was not so profoundly newsworthy as it is in the world in which we live, where only 1 in 2,000 deaths at the hands of law enforcement result in this kind of accountability.

So, what does this moment in Minneapolis mean? And equally important, what does it not yet mean?  How do we sustain and build on this all-too-rare moment of accountability to imagine a different future, one that values the humanity of all Americans, protects their lives and provides them with all that this country has to offer?

It means that a single police officer committed an act so heinous, that his fellow officers did all they could to disassociate themselves from his violence – and that he was held accountable in a court of law for those actions. We hope and pray that for the family of George Floyd, of blessed memory, there is some measure of comfort and healing that can take place now that his killer was convicted.

Yet, as we have been reminded by so many Black voices this week, ones often tinged with anguish and rage, justice would mean that Black Americans wouldn’t have to calculate their every movement, for fear of being killed as they go about their daily lives. Justice would mean that Black Americans would have the freedom to spend their energy pursuing their dreams, instead of battling unimaginable exhaustion as a result of having to weather chronic and persistent racism.

I am thinking back to a meaningful moment, early in my own entry to the work of police reform and racial justice, when in 1999, Amadou Diallo was gunned down on his own front steps by four New York City police officers. In the weeks that followed, protests occurred at One Police Plaza demanding accountability, almost exclusively by Black and Latino public officials and community leaders. At a JCRC (New York) breakfast, Congressman Charlie Rangel was asked by reporters about the protests, and he noted memorably that white New Yorkers were more inclined to take to the streets after the death of a Central Park carriage horse than they were over police accountability.

Together, with friends, and through the vehicle of JFREJ, a local Jewish social justice group that I would later co-chair, we organized. Within a week, and fueled by participation from the majority of the seminary students at both Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, I, along with 126 rabbis and Jewish activists, was arrested in an act of non-violent civil disobedience that dominated the news cycle. Our presence affirmed broader and more diverse support for this cause than was being claimed by City Hall.

Those four officers would be indicted, and then, to our dismay, acquitted at trial despite the 41 shots at an unarmed man.

A year ago, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we witnessed the extraordinary sight of Americans of all races taking to the streets to demand justice, on a scale not seen in decades. They – we – understood that all of us are implicated in the racial inequities that plague this country, and that all of us are needed to effect real change.

At JCRC, we doubled down on the long term and painstaking work of systemic change, informed by the experience and expertise of Black members of the Jewish community and by our legislative and interfaith partners. We joined with them to advocate for police reform in Massachusetts. We connected synagogues and churches craving meaningful ways to act together to build a more just community. We gathered with our friends at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to hear from the members of their 50+ diverse organizations, about the issues that matter most to their lives and to build the power to address them together.

How do I respond to that colleague, holding tension between this moment of possibility and the vastness of the challenge?

Unfortunately, there is much that hasn’t changed in 22 years. And yet there are, moments like the one we experienced this week, of genuine progress, including in the scope of public consciousness, and the diversity of people who are holding ourselves and each other accountable to do this work.

And I told them that I am reminded of the second century rabbi, Tarfon, who taught us: “It is not for you to complete that task, but neither are you free to stand aside from the work.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Racial Justice Priorities

Now is a moment for decisive action from the Jewish community on police reform. In response to calls from our allies in the Black community, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Council President Kim Janey, City Councilor Andrea Campbell, and members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus, JCRC endorsed five points to create meaningful reform. We will continue to engage with our partners at the federal and municipal levels on the other 5 points in the 10-point plan as well as several other interrelated issues. 

We stand with our partners in taking action to:
  1. To Pass Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution condemning police brutality, racial profiling, and the excessive use of force
  2.  Resolve to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a statewide Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system that certifies police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. (H2146 by Rep. Holmes and Vieira)
  3. Pass H2292 by Rep. Holmes that establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies, establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers.
  4. Pass H1440 by Rep. Holmes that Establishes a commission to study how the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.
  5. Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences, require independent investigation of officer-related deaths, and require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department. (Bill to be filed by Rep Liz Miranda soon)

Statement from JCRC on Murder of George Floyd

We at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston are heartbroken and angered by the murder - as charged by the Hennepin County prosecutor - of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis last week. We stand with the African-American community and all communities in mourning the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others who have lost their lives simply because of the persistent racism that afflicts our nation. Here in Boston, the organized Jewish community is in deep partnership and relationship with leaders in the Black community. We are reaching out to these friends, members of the clergy, and other civic leaders to express to them our solidarity and support and to ask them what they require of us in these difficult days.

In 2017, the JCRC Council embraced a series of principles regarding criminal justice reform, including support for policies that address and confront the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Today and every day we reaffirm our commitment to those principles and to the urgent work of advancing justice in our country.

We will continue to update here in the coming hours and days regarding events and activities that our partners are requesting our participation and solidarity in.