Statements from Detroit-Area Faith Groups on Inequity, Death of George Floyd
Joint Statement from Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, JCRC/AJC, and ADL Michigan
We Must Meet This Moment
Can we – white people – please be honest about racism in America? Can we please acknowledge that ever since the first slave ship arrived in Virginia in 1619, African Americans have been subjected to hatred, violence, prejudice and discrimination? Can we please stop denying or minimizing this, or pretend that it’s getting too much attention because we wish to move on?
But something is new that has changed the way America now sees racial injustice: smart phones. We now have video of many of these incidents, allowing white people a window into the reality black communities have lived with all along, and making these racist incidents and hate crimes undeniable and often shocking. Viral social media now shines a new light on systemic and institutional racism, double-standard policing and inherent discrimination that plague black communities. Now Americans – and indeed the world – can see for themselves what was historically kept hidden from those of us who were not the targets. With the killing of George Floyd, we again actually see what a racist, violent and senseless murder looks like. We can hear the pleas of the victim and of bystanders, the brutality of the perpetrator, and the indifference of others who are complicit. We can almost smell the terror of the moment.
Based on the footage we have seen, it certainly appears that George Floyd was murdered by a rogue cop who squeezed the life out of him, with a knee on his neck for more than 8 minutes, including after Mr. Floyd became nonresponsive. The former officer’s fellow cops stood and watched, despite Mr. Floyd’s pleads that he couldn’t breathe, his cries to his deceased mother, and a bystander’s admonition that the officer was killing this man.
George Floyd. Another name in an all-too-long string of names of African Americans who needlessly lost their lives, some to law enforcement, some to racist civilians — Emmett Till, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless more. How sad that they achieved fame in such a tragic and horrifying way. How sad that their names and legacies are, to many, just a symbol of racial violence, rather than the unique human beings they were. What a sad legacy to leave.
So where do we go from here? What can we do? Can we meet this moment?
The ADL and the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity fight hate every day. That’s the reason we exist. It’s a solemn and frustrating job that never seems to end. But we know that our only hope for success is if we are honest about the task. There can be no progress without it.
So let’s get real, even if it’s ugly or hurtful. As we grieve for George Floyd and the American Dream, let us be honest about this reality, starting by dispelling popular misconceptions.
First, let’s acknowledge that white people don’t fully get it. We may be moved to the point of tears when we see racial injustice, but if we’re being honest we must admit that we live different lives than people of color in this country and thus we don’t/can’t realize their experience in America. White people don’t even consider being harassed because of the color of our skin. We don’t fear being pulled over by a police officer for no good reason because of our whiteness. We don’t worry about our kids being arrested or beaten or worse because some white cop didn’t like the way they looked. We don’t consider that we can’t get a job or access to health care or an apartment or flag down a taxi simply because of our race. We don’t have to give our kids ‘the talk’ that many black parents must give to their kids about how to stay safe in a white society.
But that doesn’t mean that white people can’t – or haven’t – contributed to the fight for racial justice. It just means that we mustn’t pretend that we stand in their shoes, just like they don’t stand in ours. Many Jews can surely relate to the ways in which non-Jews can empathize and support us and work with us in effective coalitions. Many American Jews lost family in the Holocaust. We know that many non-Jews are empathetic, and that touches our hearts immensely. But isn’t there something uniquely personal to losing an ancestor to a hate crime? Doesn’t that create and strengthen a deep connection to those who stood before us? Don’t we own that connection in ways that others can’t fully understand? Can a non-Jew fully grasp a Jew’s struggles? Can a white person fully grasp the struggles of a black person? Can a non-Native American grasp their enormous struggles? Or an Armenian, and so on?
And may we pause to note that Jews of color are a growing group within the Jewish community? Let’s not render them invisible, even as we acknowledge that the majority of Jews in this country are white and have a particular duty to stand up at this time. So can we please use this moment to acquire a deeper sense of racial sensitivity, and not dismiss another’s pain by pretending that we fully understand it.
Secondly, despite what some have suggested, can we please dispel the myth that what happened last week in Minneapolis is a tipping point that will magically solve the problem? Do we really believe that the world has suddenly changed and that a new dawn in racial justice has arrived, any more than the fact that having a black President meant the end of a racialized society? The current news cycle is covering George Floyd, just as it covered Ahmaud Arbery last month, and the others before him. But, sadly, if the past predicts the future, we will see more such tragedies.
At the same time, let’s be realistic with ourselves about the pace of social change. There will be more struggles ahead. There will be more senseless crimes and harassment of black men and women. There will, tragically, be more George Floyds. But we betray the memory of the dead by falsely claiming that things have now changed because of our current sadness. The fight for racial equality is, unfortunately, a very long struggle in America. “The arc of the moral universe is long”, said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “but it bends towards justice.”
Third, let’s come to grips with recognizing that policing represents one thing to white people and tragically another thing to black people. While many cities have made great strides in integrating police forces and promoting blacks to senior ranks (Detroit being a prime example), to many African Americans the police are perceived as a threat. How many black individuals either have been wrongly accused, harassed, arrested or killed, or know someone who has been? How many white people can say that? How many white Jews can say that? We welcome the fact that in some cities over the past days we have seen police chiefs march with protestors, and law enforcement officials speak out against the actions of the former officer who murdered George Floyd. And we can defend good cops — surely there are plenty of them — but isn’t it time to accept that clearly there are still too many bad ones, and to stop reflexively defending the police in all cases? To say this is the work of a “few bad apples” may have truth in it, but it obfuscates the systemic problems of our criminal justice system, and not just within police departments, but too often also includes prosecutors, the judicial system, and the laws they enforce.
There is much to be done. We must join hands and do this together. We must be for each other and we must do it now. In the words of our Jewish sage, Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
We are not powerless. There are many things that one can do. The ADL’s motto is “Fighting hate for good”. Its website (adl.org) has many specific ways in which people can become activists. The Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a partnership between the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, regularly holds programing, events, educational sessions and webinars to promote solidarity and speak out against racism and anti-Semitism (see our Facebook page). Other groups such as the ACLU, NAACP, the National Urban League, Color of Change and the Southern Poverty Law Center—to name just a few — do a wonderful job opposing hate, and their websites list multiple ways in which one can become active.
One excellent way of working for change is to get involved in local elections. Presidents and Congress play a national role, but local elections provide us with judges, mayors, city council members and district attorneys, all of whom play critical roles in setting and enforcing criminal justice policy and other laws and procedures that disproportionately impact communities of color. We’re seeing this now in Minneapolis, just as we see it in every city that finds itself at the center of a racial crime. We can know the candidates, learn their backgrounds, and question them on how they feel about criminal justice.
This is a time for outrage, for there is much to be outraged about. But it’s also a time for us to be outraged together. Our unity in the face of racial injustice is our strength. Good people of all colors, faiths and ethnicities can and must step up our efforts. This is a time for solidarity, for commitment, for community involvement.
“If you want to go fast”, says the African proverb, “go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We want – we need – to go far to erase the stain of racial injustice in America, and thus we must go together.
The Holocaust Memorial Center
“It is not someone else’s job to make it better.”
Roger Brooks, President and CEO of Facing History and Ourselves.
Every day at HMC we teach the lessons of the Holocaust—that hate has terrible and long-lasting consequences. That it is not enough to stand by and do nothing. That every individual, family, and community can make a difference in our world. As Elie Wiesel famously said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”
The history of racism in our country infects every aspect of American life. As teachers of the Holocaust we understand that feelings lead to words, which lead to actions, which all too often lead to violence and death. We have the power to fan the flames of hatred; but we also have the power to extinguish those flames.
How many photographs have we seen of bystanders watching passively as books were destroyed and synagogues burned during Kristallnacht? If only people had stood up for their Jewish neighbors, protested the Nuremberg laws, refused to buy newspapers filled with hate-spewing propaganda! Why didn’t more people do something?
We cannot rewrite history. But have we learned the lessons of history? What will each of us do now, today, to ensure the safety of others? The safety of the Other?
It is not someone else’s job to make it better. What will I do today? What will you?
Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
Justice for Ahmaud, Breonna and George! Justice for all Black People!
The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion mourns the brutal and merciless murders of Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor, and the most recent of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. While the tragic killing connects us to all the Black people who have been murdered since this country was founded, including Eric Garner, Philando Castillo, Shatina Grady, Aiyana Jones, Michael Brown, and Travon Martin, it has happened so often across America that it leaves our stomachs turning in knots removing the myth that we are living in a post-racial society. We are haunted by this ugly reality — We will not accept this ugly reality; we are determined to fight, to transform, this ugly reality. In our efforts to understand what seems to be an unending reality, we acknowledge:
- The murder of George Floyd was first plotted hundreds of years ago beginning with how settlers treated this lands’ Indigenous People and then in the kidnapping of Africans brought here as slaves.
- The plan to murder George Floyd was put in place when we embedded white supremacist beliefs into our institutions, governments, court rulings, and policies.
- George Floyd’s death was made possible by the unchecked racism of an officer and three accomplices, the racism within the Minneapolis Police Department, and the racism dwelling in every dimension of our lives.
- The death of Black Americans at the hands of police is an extension of this racism in the very air we breathe, suffocating life.
- The unique challenge faced by law enforcement as they seek to address the inevitable brutality perpetrated by their officers along with the racism embedded in the recruiting, training, and supervision of officers stamped in practice and procedures.
Mindful of this deep and pervasive racism and inspired by our mission statement to “empower individuals to transform communities and the workplace to overcome racism, discrimination, systemic inequities, and institutional and inherent bias,” we call for:
- Learning about this history of racism and present-day racial inequities;
- Listening to your colleagues and neighbors who are of different racial backgrounds and participating in community and workplace conversations as you become accountable for a change in your thinking and behavior;
- Encouraging your local law enforcement departments to become part of the Detroit Metro ALPACT (Advocates & Leaders for Police and Community Trust), a coalition of law enforcement and community members challenging the very practices attacking the lives of
Black and Brown people;
Serving as a catalyst for change, we develop, organize, and empower individuals and communities to advance equity and opportunity for all.
- Ending repressive use of force by police and shifting funding priorities towards social justice restorative practices for community safety; and,
- Going beyond traditional diversity and inclusion training to transform not only the organizations you are a part of, but also the communities where you work and live so that Black people and other People of Color are seen as equal and treated with the justice they deserve.
We end this statement with a quote from Mark Fancher, staff attorney at ACLU of Michigan: The solution will not be found in new policies and training. Ultimately, things will change only when a law enforcement culture deeply rooted in racism and violence changes. Only those in the law enforcement community can make that happen. It will happen only when every cop from the lowest-ranking patrol officers to the highest-ranking administrators become committed to purging from their ranks those who believe dark skin equals probable cause for searches, arrests, and brutality.
We continue on the journey to identify, confront, and end systemic racism with you.