You cannot crush the life out of someone on Minnesota pavement like it’s nothing.
This is not justice.
A person of color, approached by an officer, should not have to feel fear, a fear I can only imagine, due to my privilege. Put another way, a police officer’s patience must not be determined by one’s skin.
An officer must be a cocoon, a point of safety, a hero to help. Surely there are many officers who already are these things, or who truly want to be.
When I was a manager at a daily newspaper, a wise supervisor who had seen it all once taught me, if the employees aren’t doing what you want them to do, maybe it’s the system that’s the problem.
And what a problem it is.
Two years ago, I interviewed the worldwide father of problem-oriented policing, who was guided by Jewish values in developing it.
Herman Goldstein, may his memory be a blessing, told us police stopped showing up at the annual problem-oriented policing conference. “Now it’s fallen off. It’s fallen way off,” Goldstein told us in 2018. “Because police are diverted to terrorism. Police are fragile and they respond to public interests.”
Ever since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the public interest has been in terrorism.
It could hardly be a coincidence that police, armed and suited–up to fight war with terrorists, seem more aggressive than necessary. One of Goldstein’s favorite examples of problem-oriented policing was when British police worked with pubs on replacing glass cups with plastic, to make fights less dangerous. In Herman Goldstein’s world, we can imagine that police might engage with Wendy’s and other businesses in Atlanta to solve problems, perhaps including loitering, in ways that might reduce the likelihood of escalation.
Now, as the nation wonders what to do, I wish I could have the whole country sit with Goldstein in his Madison living room. Honestly, I felt honored to do so before his death, to learn from him; the minutes felt precious. That’s even truer now, as I remember the large photos he treasured, hanging just above his desk, of a citizen and an officer in conflict, then hugging. He pointed it out to as something special.
We can know this much. Color must not determine the jobs one can get; thus, the justice one can afford, the schools one attends and the future one can dream.
Color, too often, is a ticket to the bottom floor. Organized Judaism has spoken in unison. This must not stand.
The Reform Jewish movement issued a statement that passed no bucks whatsoever: “From generation to generation, white Americans, including white Jews, have failed to own and end the systemic racial injustices on which the nation was founded, and instead have actively or passively perpetuated these injustices.”
The statement adds: “We affirm that Black Lives Matter.”
Reform and Orthodox are on divergent ends of the religious spectrum, but on this issue there’s agreement.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America statement after George Floyd’s death read that “we are again witnessing that too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this brutal and unjust treatment is antithetical to basic American values.”
The Reconstructionist movement, now called Reconstructing Judaism, issued a statement from its rabbinical student May Ye: “To my black and brown siblings, your lives matter …”
Conservatives issued a statement, too: “United in purpose, we will dismantle the systemic racism all too embedded still within American law enforcement and its justice system.”
Herman Goldstein’s work, and the research of others, can give us an old roadmap to a new and better place. Our Jewish values can give us the impetus to pick that roadmap back up. The time to do so is now.
If not now, when?
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.