Rabbi Syme and Rev. Flowers in 2016
Rabbi Syme and Rev. Flowers in 2016. (JN/File Photo)

Rabbi Daniel Syme and Pastor Kenneth J. Flowers have agreed to share their thoughts on the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial with the Jewish News.

Editor’s Note: Pastor Kenneth J. Flowers and Rabbi Daniel Syme have shared a close friendship and brotherhood that has extended for some 25 years. They have laughed together, cried together and prayed for one another’s healing. And yet, Rabbi Syme cannot think of any moment in their bond that has been more impactful than the reading of the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd. The two friends exchanged their thoughts and agreed to share them with the Jewish News.

Dear Ken,

I must confess I had misgivings about that verdict. I knew what I had seen. I knew what I felt was so obvious. And yet, American history had conditioned me to be cautious about my optimism.

Rabbi Daniel Syme
Rabbi Daniel Syme

I listened to Judge Cahill read the verdict: “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” And I felt enormous relief. But at the same time, I felt profound sadness, sadness that a verdict that seemed so obvious could be a source of celebration in the United States of America.  

My thoughts drifted back to August 1963. I was 17 years old when my father of blessed memory, Rabbi M. Robert Syme, returned from participating in the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and told me, “Danny, America is on the road to justice, but it is your generation that will bring us there.”

Dad was a bit too optimistic. But it was a 17-year-old girl, Darnella Frazier, who turned on the video on her cell phone and filmed the entire horrific murder because, as she said, “it was wrong, and I wanted to do something.” 

Darnella did something, and the entire world saw. This young woman, perhaps unknowingly, was living out the words of Torah: “Justice, Justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

So here we are today, filled with hope tempered by a profound sense of uncertainty. For during the Chauvin trial itself, another young black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by the police, only 10 miles from where George Floyd died. A 16-year-old Black girl was killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, during jury deliberations. And Andrew Brown Jr. was killed by police in North Carolina the day after the verdict.

The verdict was a historic first step, but only a beginning. There is so much more to do. So today, I again reach out my hand to you, my beloved friend, and promise you that I will do all in my power to strengthen your resolve.

There is no way for me to understand fully the challenges we face. So, I will depend on you to guide me and to reinforce my understanding. God bless you and may this be God’s will. 

Dear Danny,

I wholeheartedly appreciate your comments on the Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts. 

Pastor Kenneth J. Flowers
Pastor Kenneth J. Flowers

My heart rejoiced when Judge Cahill read those guilty verdicts … unlike in 1992 when four white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and watched the city go up in flames in the worst civil unrest in the history of Los Angeles. So, the Derek Chauvin guilty verdicts gave me a sense of justice. 

However, this cannot be the conclusion of the matter. There are still three other former Minneapolis police officers who must be held accountable in the George Floyd murder. Other police officers must be charged and held accountable for the murders of Breanna Taylor, Daunte Wright and now Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. 

Time and time again, too many African Americans are dying at the hands of white police officers, and, in most instances, they are unarmed! Something must be done now to change the climate and correct these gross miscarriages of justice!

Therefore, we must lobby Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which, if passed, will hold police officers accountable for their criminal actions against African Americans in particular and all people in general. 

We must change the mindset of white police officers in particular and all police officers in general that African Americans and Latinos deserve the same courtesy and respect as their white counterparts. If we believe that all police officers are not bad, then we must also believe that all African Americans and Latinos are not bad! We must promote community policing in which police officers know the residents and are not so trigger-happy to shoot first and ask questions later.

Let us forge ahead together and bring about justice in our community. Let us get to know one another better … police and community … and establish a bond of respect and understanding and friendship. Let us work together hand in hand until “Justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We shall overcome! 

Rabbi Daniel Syme is rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers is pastor of Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.