Jewish groups are expressing outrage over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed last week by a Minneapolis police officer who has subsequently been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and solidarity with the sweeping national protests that have followed.
The City of Pittsburgh was under an overnight curfew from Saturday night through Monday morning in response to violent protest that began peacefully but turned violent downtown, resulting in many vandalized storefronts, looting, police cars set ablaze, and several police officers and three journalists injured.
On Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relation Council, in a statement, said it is “heartbroken by the senseless and unnecessary death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis several days ago. We stand with the African American community and all communities of color in mourning the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ahmed Aubery and countless others who have lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin. We commend Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert for speaking out against this atrocity and for taking steps to use it as a teachable moment at the Pittsburgh Police Academy.
“We recognize that the riots in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday were sparked largely by those who are not part of any community of color and who are seeking to widen the racial divide throughout the region. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is all too familiar with how it feels to be targeted simply because we are different while simultaneously being scapegoated by the perpetrators of violence. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with, listen to and learn from our partners in the African American community and law enforcement to make Pittsburgh a more equitable, safe and inclusive place for all who live here.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organization working with 130 local groups across the United States, tweeted an image of two dozen black men, women and, in one case, a child who have been killed by police officers, writing: “JCPA condemns the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement. We stand in solidarity and will do everything in our power to see through systemic changes in law enforcement and in our criminal justice system. We agree with Rep Lewis that all protests should be nonviolent.”
The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, connected George Floyd’s death to “an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes” across the United States:
“We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system. While it is a necessary first step in the pathway towards justice that former Officer Derek Chauvin was taken into custody yesterday, it is simply not enough. Based on the horrifying cell phone footage that has rightfully outraged Americans across the country, it is clear that the three other former officers who participated in Mr. Floyd’s death need to be held responsible for their actions to the fullest extent of our legal system. The Hennepin County District Attorney and local investigators must do everything in their power to ensure the wheels of justice turn swiftly. As an organization committed to fighting all forms of hate, we know that this brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the U.S. As an agency that has stood for justice and fair treatment to all since our founding in 1913, we know that this has occurred at a time when communities of color have been reeling from the disproportionate health impacts and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In short, systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change. Now.”
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, reiterated his group’s commitment to ongoing action:
“The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color — and particularly Black men — have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
“We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
“Our country simply cannot achieve the values of ‘justice for all’ to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans.”
Sheila Katz, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women, said this:
“We will not remain silent. As a national organization made up of over 100,000 advocates in communities around the country — including Minnesota — we are outraged and devastated by the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was murdered by multiple police officers who held him down with their knees, however, the underlying cause of his death is systemic racism. It is both unacceptable and exhausting that in 2020, we still need to insist over and over again: Black Lives Matter. …
“Through legislative reform, local activism, and by educating NCJW advocates, we will make sure each individual we engage helps end the toxic culture of racism that permeates our country. For now, it is important to support Black and Brown communities and the leaders spearheading the peaceful, anti-racist responses unfolding. Together, we will make sure the memory of George Floyd will be for a blessing.”
In a tweet, the Jewish Federations of North America said: “This week has reminded us yet again that we have a long way to go in our work towards a more just society for all. We will not stop fighting for a world free of racism and bigotry in all of its forms. #JusticForGeorge #StandingTogether
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative and Masorti rabbis, called for sweeping changes to policing in America:
“We join in the collective call for peace and reflection during civil unrest, but understand that to achieve this end we must act. For these reasons, the Rabbinical Assembly calls on legislators at the national, state, and local levels to fundamentally change their approach to law enforcement and the justice system so that they serve and protect all Americans, regardless of race nor ethnicity. We encourage our own members to reach out to other communities, to Jews of Color, as well as to local law enforcement to help lead and shape these endeavors within the community.
“United in purpose, we will dismantle the systemic racism all too embedded still within American law enforcement and its justice system. The firing and we hope prosecution of the four Minneapolis police officers involved in this one egregious murder is a necessary step, but it cannot be the only action against structural injustices that have plagued generations and continue to this day. We must forever strive for a free and just society for all people.”
J Street released this statement: “J Street stands in solidarity with communities of color all across the nation today as they express continued shock, grief and anger at the killing of George Floyd.
The killing of Mr. Floyd is but the latest in a horrific and seemingly never-ending string of assaults on the lives of African-Americans and other people of color. We join all who are calling for arrests, criminal charges and justice related to Mr. Floyd’s death.“Most importantly, we speak as an organization whose identity is primarily, though not exclusively, Jewish and whose work is grounded in the values upon which our community was raised and a core belief in the fundamental equality, worth and dignity of every human being. We understand all too deeply the pain of centuries of antisemitism, hatred and tragedy. We relate to the different yet all-too-familiar experience of communities of color who, in this country, have experienced centuries of bigotry, violence and oppression. Many members of the American Jewish community are people of color who in this moment are confronted with an onslaught of rising and often interrelated anti-Jewish and anti-black hatred.
“As Jews, we can recognize a society pervaded by fundamental and structural racism. It has been clearly demonstrated in the coronavirus pandemic, whose victims are disproportionately black, brown and Native American. It is demonstrated every day in the way American citizens and noncitizens living among us are discriminated against in education, employment and day-to-day interactions based on the color of their skin or the accent of their speech.
“As an organization dedicated to peace, justice, equality and democracy, we take it as a sacred obligation to stand in partnership with communities of color under attack in this country, just as they stand against the scourge of antisemitism.
“Our country is literally dying and bleeding today. Tragically, our president, rather than looking to heal the nation’s wounds and close its gaping divides, revels in stoking the flames of hate and throwing fuel on the fires of racism and division.
“We must do everything within our power to defeat President Trump this November. But it would be naive to imagine that a single election could undo centuries of inequity or significantly alter America’s deeply entrenched system of structural racism.
“In this moment and in every moment, we must recognize our personal, communal and societal complicity in the persistence of racism, injustice and inequality in our country. We must recommit, in light of all that is happening around us, to the fight against evils that have plagued the United States since its founding.”
“May the memories of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others be an inspiration to us all to address the deep wounds in our society and to work toward a future in which, as Martin Luther King put it, ‘this nation will one day rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin issued the following statement:
“When a person of color cannot go out jogging for fear his life will end and cannot have a police encounter that does not result in his death and cannot even go bird watching without being harassed, we are at a dangerous, heartbreaking and somber time in our society.
In light of the ongoing unrest in America’s cities in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, we call on communities to come together to heal and to address that which divides us.
Firing, arresting and charging with murder and manslaughter Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death is just the start. The officers with Chauvin must also be held accountable.
Serious and significant reform of our criminal justice system and promoting and understanding the principles of equal justice to honor Floyd and others targeted because of the color of their skin must be swiftly addressed on a local and national level.” PJC
This article originally appeared on JTA.org. Additional reporting by Liz Spikol and Toby Tabachnick.