Members of the Jewish community were saddened and concerned by recent events involving black men and law enforcement officers — the killings by police of black men stopped for minor offenses followed by the murder of white police officers by skilled black marksmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
“We are tired of the violence,” said Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan. “Congressman John Lewis said, ‘We are one people, one family, one house.’ In our one family, we grieve together when any of us are hurt.”
Jeremy Salinger of Southfield, a past president of Ameinu Detroit, a progressive Zionist organization, said, “The lives of all people matter. Both blacks and police officers have a common concern: They both have more reason to fear for their lives than most of the rest of us. The recent killings of innocent people in both groups are tragic.”
Some urge white America to be more sympathetic to the plight of Americans of color.
“We have a serious and significant racial divide in our country that we cannot ignore,” said Alyssa Martina of Huntington Woods, publisher of Metro Parent and B.L.A.C. (Black Life Arts and Culture) magazines.
“Those of us who aren’t from a community of color don’t know what it’s like to live in fear of a system that is supposed to keep its citizens safe.”
Eleanor Gamalski of Detroit, community organizer for Detroit Jews for Justice, agreed. “For people
like me, who grew up in white suburbs, the violence faced by black and brown communities can seem unimaginable. But it’s a reality.”
Others are less likely to blame systemic racism for the deaths and have little sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback,” said Eugene Greenstein of Farmington Hills, a past president of the Michigan Region-Zionist Organization of America.
“The police may have unjustly killed two black men; however, the investigations are incomplete and the videos do not tell the whole story.”
Rabbi Sasson Natan of Keter Torah Synagogue in West Bloomfield says police officers put their lives on the line, and videos may not tell the whole story. No one knows what goes through an officer’s mind in the split-second when he decides whether or not to shoot, he said.
True respect for the law can help prevent such tragedies, said Eric Zacks of Huntington Woods, assistant professor of law at Wayne State University.
“Recent events are troubling to the extent they reflect a weakening of our collective belief in, and respect for, the rule of law,” he said. “People are not upset about the law as written. On all sides, people are upset about how the law is applied, abused or rejected, which is a much more complicated problem.”
Another attorney, Jonathan H. Schwartz of Plymouth, a leader of the Jewish Bar Association, says police should be held to the highest ethical standards. “If they overreach or break the law, they should not be exempt from justice,” he said.
What to do going forward?
“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,’” Greenstein said. “We need our politicians to be leaders and not pander by immediately blaming the police as racists when there is an altercation.”
Others feel better communication is key.
Martina said people need to “listen deeply to one another and build empathy. Otherwise, the fear and frustration between communities of color and law enforcement will simply escalate.”
Schwartz said, “All Americans have a moral imperative to speak out and demand an end to any abuse of fellow citizens. Jews in particular stood with African Americans during the 1960s civil rights struggle and should do so today.”
Dr. Richard Krugel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said, “We are a people who are sadly all too familiar with the ugly consequences of prejudice and discrimination. This cannot be the new normal for the America we love. The Jewish community is compelled to act out of respect for the dignity of all human life and pledge to work to improve race relations, support police-community relations and to combat the rising levels of violence in our society.”
Gamalski said, “We need to listen to and raise up the experiences of people of color. We need to talk to our parents, grandparents, children and congregations about racism and violence and to urge one another towards compassionate action.”
Brenda Naomi Rosenberg of Bloomfield Hills, who describes herself as an “agent for change,” said, “We are at a critical moment in history. We can turn our sadness and grief into action. We can choose to self-destruct or create new discourse and be in the presence of the best of our humanity.” *
— Barbara Lewis | Contributing Writer