There is a midrash that teaches: As Abraham journeyed through the desert, he came upon a palace that was ablaze. ““Is it abandoned? Where is the owner of the palace?” He called out. The owner appeared.
For Abraham, noticing the world was on fire, stopping, calling out the suffering in the universe, was central to his emergent theology. As his descendants, we are morally implicated in Abraham’s concern for the world around him.
When we see our world ablaze with unnecessary suffering, with racial injustice, with an unarmed African American shot and killed by police officers, we as Jews are morally obligated to respond. Our Jewish tradition demands we slow down enough to pay attention to those who cry out for justice, for equality, for human dignity. This is the moral legacy Abraham bequeathed to us; engagement in the world is the responsibility of each individual Jew, and for the Jewish community.
Once, it was the Jews who looked to others to stand with us, in our quest for freedom and equality and human dignity. Today, generations later, it is our task to rise with those who cry out in pain, to amplify their call for justice. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends, members of our city and our community.
Last Sunday, November 15th, near the intersection of Plymouth and James Avenues in North Minneapolis, Minneapolis police, in the process of apprehending an unarmed 24-year old black man named Jamar Clark, shot him in the head. He died several days later from his injuries.
The response from his community was immediate. The Minneapolis NAACP and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis sprang into action. They marched that night, eventually occupying the police department’s 4th precinct station, where they have remained all week, camped out, marching and protesting and singing in the cold and rain, demanding justice for Jamar Clark.
And almost immediately, as young people of color called out, the police and the media responded with their own narratives, conflicting and confusing. Jamar Clark wasn’t in handcuffs when he was shot. Or he was. Or he was reaching for an officer’s gun. He was a good boy. Or he was a criminal. The mayor called in a federal investigation into his death. Be patient, we tell Jamar Clark’s family and community. Wait for the investigation. The facts will come out.
Let me tell you: The facts are out. In Minneapolis, black people are almost nine times more likely to be arrested for minor offenses than white people. Black youth are almost six times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for low-level crimes. Black people consistently report bias in how they are treated by police, and the numbers support this. Tonight, as I write this, we observe the first anniversary of the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy with a toy gun who was shot and killed by police outside of his Cleveland recreation center. This happens again and again and we tell people of color to wait, to be patient with the investigation. To place their trust in a system that is failing them. Imprisoning them. Killing them.
As a white person, I won’t speak for people of color, I can only speak for myself. But I listen to people of color, and I believe them when they say that these are their experiences. As soon as Jamar Clark was shot, the reports of the bystanders who watched it happen were discounted and discredited, and I have to ask why. When the president of the police union calls for witnesses to be silenced, I am left to wonder, Who is he protecting? When we tell people of color to trust the system, we ignore their lived experiences. It’s insulting. We need to stop.
Like Abraham, I see a world on fire, and I am compelled to call out.
I’ve stood in solidarity at the 4th precinct this week as a member of the staff of Jewish Community Action. JCA is dedicated to working for social change alongside communities impacted by racial and economic injustice. We recognize racism at the core of the inequities our cities face and we know our community has a powerful role to play. As an organization, we stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.
I’ve stood in solidarity at the 4th precinct this week as a Northsider. Jamar Clark was killed three miles south of my own home in North Minneapolis. This is the community where I live, where I’m raising my kids, and the fact that my destiny is tied up with what’s happening at the 4th precinct is not abstract. Yesterday I watched a video one of the protestors took of a white police officer gloating about the crime on the Northside. “I’m going to say it’s a race thing,” he continued, “because that’s who lives here.” I’ve read that 94 percent of the Minneapolis police force lives outside of Minneapolis. I know that the people protecting communities most often do not feel like part of those communities, but to hear it admitted so boldly broke my heart. How can you claim to be truly invested in the safety and prosperity of a community that you hold in such contempt?
I’ve stood in solidarity at the 4th precinct this week as a Jew. I’ve stood in a circle with clergy and faith leaders, including Shir Tikvah’s Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, praying and singing and hoping that our presence will help to de-escalate police officers who, 15 feet away, have let us know that they are ready to use tear gas on the young people of color leading us in protest. The world is on fire, and tikkun olam is our inheritance, a covenant we were born into. It’s our moral obligation to work to repair what’s broken in the world for everyone on earth.
I’ve stood in solidarity at the 4th precinct this week through moments of calm and moments of escalation. The police department wants you to think of the protestors as rioters, but you should know that what’s happening down at the 4th precinct is not just protest, it’s a community calling out for justice and ministering to people in real pain. There are hot meals served to anyone who needs one, there are donated gloves and hand warmers and fires to stand beside. There is anger, yes, and prayer and song and peace.
It is our task to rise with those who cry out in pain, to amplify their call for justice.
I want to be clear that I am not a leader in this movement. I’m a leader at JCA, I’m a leader in some spaces within the Jewish community. But when I stand in solidarity with the people of color fighting for justice for Jamar Clark, I follow their instructions. As allies, we need to listen to and trust the experiences and judgment of the people of color who are leading. Read Mary Turck’s blog for a good recap of some of those voices.
As I write this, the federal investigation will begin shortly; there is video of Jamar Clark’s death, and protestors want to see it, they want to truth provided to his family and community as soon as possible. Occupation of the 4th precinct continues, into its eighth day. Allies are needed, as is firewood and hot meals. You can find out what else you can do by following @BlackLivesMpls on Twitter, or by visiting http://4thprecinctshutdown.org.
Thank you to Rabbi Michael Adam Latz for collaborating on this piece and for providing text and insight.