Jewish response to vandalism during protests was inadequate
It was astonishing and disheartening to read the responses of various Jewish organizations to the death of George Floyd. The Chronicle carried something like five pages of expressions of appropriate sympathy. Jewish leaders expressed varying degrees of outrage, but not one word of reflection or perspective, much less concern, about the ravages that accompanied the protests, though Jews, of all people, should fear mobs and lawlessness.
Lest an example be needed, the riots resulted in the vandalism of synagogues and Jewish businesses in Los Angeles. But not one of the statements from Jewish organizations — including the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded to defend Jews — took any note of that. The Chronicle itself, which gave significant space to articles on real estate and entertainment, relegated the news of the L.A. attacks to the third of four JTA reports of world events of Jewish interest. The ADL’s reaction? “Anti-Semitism is never OK.” Something less than a passionate denunciation. Does the “systemic change” that the ADL insists must occur “now” have anything to do with Jews?
The Jewish community vigorously addresses the second part of Hillel’s question, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” But it sometimes seems that the answer to the first part — “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” — is no one. Not even us.
Ann Sheckter Powell
A vision for multiracial democracy — it may not be too late
The systems of white supremacy and racism plague every aspect of our lives — the police, public health, public housing, public education, transportation, immigration, religious institutions, and the list goes on. To build a truly radical future where each person’s life has value, people of all faiths, races, sexuality, gender identities, and abilities will have to dismantle these systems and create something new.
I am speaking now to our local Jewish leaders who are and have historically been predominantly white men. The time for statements has come and gone. Widespread police brutality against black people is staring us in the face and our Torah demands that we cannot ignore this suffering. President Trump called on our military to attack protesters. It is not partisan to acknowledge that this is unlawful, unconstitutional, and a hilul Hashem. As an active member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, I need you to use your speech and your actions to lift up black leaders, dismantle your own white-dominant and patriarchal work environments, embrace anti-racism practices so Jews of color and our black neighbors can trust Jewish institutions, and allocate more funding and share more services with the black community.
I welcome the opportunity to do this work in partnership. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some ideas and we can figure out the rest together guided by black wisdom. There is still time for us to build this world from love.
Yael Silk, a leader of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh
Chronicle’s coverage of George Floyd protests falls short
Following the horrific murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade (SAY THEIR NAMES!), black people in all 50 states are saying, “Enough is enough!” Black people have filled the streets with sadness and righteous anger over the deliberate murder of black people by police. They are pleading with white people, again, to have frank conversations about race and challenge anti-black racism in ALL white spaces.
The Chronicle’s coverage of the protests did not honor and uplift black people and the Movement for Black Lives (what black leaders and organizers have asked of allies); rather it was a one-sided retelling putting black lives in danger.
The Chronicle, in this moment, ignored the call to end police brutality and the demand for justice and liberation. Instead, white writers followed the lead of the police. The same police that fired chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and cloth-wrapped shotgun pellets at protesters on June 1, as we marched into Shadyside, a white neighborhood, from East Liberty and Larimer, black neighborhoods.
The Chronicle claimed protests as part of the Movement for Black Lives have caused harm to police and property downtown. There is no mention by the Chronicle of the state violence perpetrated against black people by police. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
The Chronicle showed Jewish and non-Jewish black people, integral to the fabric of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, that their lives don’t matter like white Jewish lives murdered by white supremacist violence at Tree of Life. Black people are family members, friends, caregivers, neighbors, and colleagues. First of all, they are human beings worthy of care. The same level of care black people provide to white people here. Black lives are valuable, and every person should honor the blood taken from their ancestors to build this country.
The Movement for Black Lives is not a new one, but the culmination of more than 400 years of black people shouting their struggle and their demands, and not being heard. It is the response to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black people in the U.S.; the response to the anti-black racism that permeates every facet of U.S. law; the response to white journalists slandering the largest civil rights movement in world history; the response to white people dedicated to a return to “normalcy” while black people and allies of all colors are in the streets, and dying, for the survival of black people.
Wholehearted solidarity putting white bodies and resources on the line for black people is cause for celebration. It is the greatest challenge to white supremacy because caring for black lives is antithetical to white supremacy culture. Each day these protests continue we all come closer to regaining our humanity.
Black people in the U.S. have called all people to action in this moment. We must listen without defensiveness, and we must focus, interrogate ourselves and our culture, and show up with our whole selves in the Movement for Black Lives.
Black Lives Matter.
Presidential leadership crucial in the wake of George Floyd death
I appreciate the strong and impassioned reaction from local faith institutions in the aftermath of the horrifying murder of George Floyd at the hands of a 19-year veteran of a major city police force (“Jewish Organizations Respond to George Floyd Death, Protests,” June 5).
Racism, conscious and unconscious, did not begin with Donald Trump nor, sadly, will it end with him, but leadership can be so critical at a time like this, in which healing is so badly needed. Our country has no leadership in the White House.
At a time when we seek reassurance, comfort, and unity from a president, we are receiving the opposite: hatred, intolerance, hyper partisanship, Twitter attacks on foes, lies, distortions, division, militancy. At a time in which the nation bleeds and cries out for empathy, understanding, and kindness, we are faced with a leader who declares himself to be the “law and order” president, going so far as to quote a racist police chief of the 1960s: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” So much for due process of law.
In a ridiculous, insulting and abhorrent stunt, the president presided over a violent repression of peaceful protesters so that he could walk across the street from the White House to a church for a photo opportunity while holding a bible. Condemnation for the repression and bible stunt has appropriately flowed not only from Democrats, but from traditional allies, including Christian leader Pat Robertson and many Republican U.S. senators.
Our president has made a lifetime of fanning the flames of racism. In the 1970s, he and his father faced federal charges for refusing to rent their apartments to minorities. After the Central Park Five were apprehended for a crime they did not commit, Trump smeared them, placing full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty to be imposed. The exoneration of the men did nothing to change Trump’s tenor toward them and he has never backed off from a belief in their guilt despite DNA evidence to the contrary.
For six years, Trump perpetrated a racist birther hoax against the predecessor he despises, Barack Obama. When Colin Kaepernick engaged in a silent, dignified protest by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, Trump characterized him and other black athletes as “sons of b——.” To Trump, there are “s—hole countries”: those that are populated by black and brown residents. As he seeks to limit both illegal and legal immigration, he has expressed a fondness for Norwegians whom he would welcome to come here to live.
When our president calls the family of the late George Floyd purporting to be sympathetic, expresses revulsion for what befell him, and calls for justice in the case, how are we to believe him, given his dishonorable history?