Rep. Brenda Lawrence
Rep. Brenda Lawrence. (Photo: Jacqueline Elliott)

Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations looks to spearhead legislation to fight systematic racism. 

The Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations released a joint statement on Tuesday, June 2 condemning the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, calling his death “nothing less than a modern-day lynching.” The caucus also called for an end to systemic racism and demanding justice.  

U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D), who represents Michigan’s 14th district, is one of the co-chairs of the caucus. Lawrence believes that now is the time for the caucus to spring into action, and calls on the black and Jewish communities to continue to come together like they have in the past. 

“We’re going to have legislation and laws that will address hate crimes and civil rights for everyone,” Lawrence told the JN. “This is an opportunity for us to work together. We must become very clear in our government and in our policies to publicly have zero tolerance for people who commit hate crimes, for people who discriminate and for people who are racist and anti-Semitic.” 

In the next couple weeks, the caucus is planning a national town hall event that will be aired on PBS. They are currently still working on the logistics for the town hall so they can incorporate a number of varying voices. 

The caucus was started in the fall of 2019 and brings together bipartisan leadership to raise awareness of the needs of the communities, as well as to initiate measures to combat hate and stereotypes. As the representative for a district that includes large parts of Southfield, West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills, as well as Pontiac and much of Detroit, Lawrence has long had to balance the needs of her black and Jewish constituents. 

Lawrence told the JN that the caucus is currently putting a package of legislature together to bring forth. One policy that she wants to see is that when a crime like this takes placethe investigation should not be conducted by its own police force. Instead, she said, it should be pulled out and handed over to the FBI for investigation. 

The training, education and hiring of police officers is also an area that Lawrence would like to see more changes too. Many cities, Lawrence said, require rookies to take diversity training courses, but once officers are sworn in, the courses never come back into play. 

“We all have our own personal biases and life experience that allow us to have certain feelings,” Lawrence said. “But being a police officer, we must find a way to train, monitor, hold accountable and remove those police officers who are not fulfilling their duties.” 

While protests are happening throughout the country in response to the police killing of Floyd, Lawrence continues to advocate for people to stand up, use their voices and stand in solidarity with the black community. She also asks for the Jewish community to continue to lend their undeniable support. 

“The civil rights that we have gained in this country was because of the Jewish community stepping up legally, stepping up by protesting and stepping up in financial support for groups,” Lawrence said. “What we need now is the Jewish community to stand with us. The Jewish community to me are my brothers and sisters. I want them to be visible.” 

Lawrence understands that this fight is the same fight that generations have been combatting for years, similar to how the Jewish community continues to battle anti-Semitism, white supremacy and hate crimes to this day. 

“When are we going to create an environment that shows that this is unacceptable?” Lawrence said. “Someone told me, ‘You can’t legislate racism.’ I can’t make anyone like me or dislike me because of the color of my skin. But I sure can protect the environment that we work and live in, create laws that will swiftly hold those to the judicial process and make sure that everyone knows that if you choose to do this, there are consequences.”  

Lawrence exemplified her gratitude for the peaceful protestors in Detroit who are not taking part of burning down the city, like how it happened in 1960’s when she was a child.  

Protesters and police clash in Detroit during demonstrations following the May 25 police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
Protesters and police clash in Detroit during demonstrations following the May 25 police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Alexander Clegg/Jewish News

“We burned up our city and we destroyed it. There’s enough of us around who aren’t going to let that happen,” Lawrence said. “We have come so far as a city, and we’re the comeback city. There is just so much happening, and I’m so thankful we haven’t been doing the burning and looting.” 

The black community was also devastated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic here in Michigan. Lawrence knew many people, including two of her family members, who were diagnosed with the virus and battled the illness. 

“We have been locked up in our homes, grieving deaths and sickness with this virus and then when this happened, it was like dry brush and this event was the flame that just lit up all of these emotions,” Lawrence said. “It was just back to back, with the young man who was jogging down the street and was shot down like he was animal pray and somebody was hunting him. The disregard of life for the young lady who was in her own apartment and police broke in and took her life. 

And then, to watch a man die, and take his last breath, from what I call a modern day lynching because when you lynch someone, you cut off the air by their neck and that’s what happened here. To watch that, it was just too much. We had to get out and scream and tell people that this is not right and we deserve more than because we are Americans.” 

Lawrence called on local mayors, governors and the president to make sure they are uniting the country as one, instead of causing more division. 

“We should vote for those people that understand their job is to bring us together and to be the uniter of these United States of America, of your city and of your state,” Lawrence said. “We don’t elect people who will divide us and actually prey on parts of our community and make them disposable.” 

Lawrence encourages the black and Jewish communities to engage with “the Black-Jewish dialogue. When she was a child in the Detroit area, she said, people would open their homes and sit with one another, listen to each other and form inclusive bonds. 

“We have moved this dialogue to synagogues and town halls, but what about that intimate setting in someone’s home talking about what is happening, especially now,” Lawrence said. “I’m a firm believer that when small groups of people come together on the same issue that we can truly start making a difference.” 

As serving as Southfield’s mayor and now as a congresswoman, Lawrence is proud of the connections of the black and Jewish communities in her district. While it is not a reality in a lot of areas throughout the country, it is a powerful tool that the community can use to fight for the equality and justice that the country needs.  

“Someone told me yesterday, ‘No matter how dark the night, morning will come.’ And I am counting on that,” Lawrence said. 

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