The death of George Floyd at the hands of Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and the more recent arrest of three other police officers as accessories has triggered demonstrations, violence and looting all over the country. Can we make sense of it? Maybe. If we first separate de disparate elements in the reaction and we look at them separately.
1) The facts: A Minneapolis police officer abuse the use of violence while restraining George Floyd, to the point that in spite of Floyd's warning that he could not breath, the police officer (Derek Chauvin) persisted causing Floyd's death.
2) General social feelings at the time: after weeks of COVID related shutdown and limitation of movements, people were already on edge. The use of excesive violence by a police officer resulting in the death of a citizen acted as a spark igniting a powderkeg of frustration and anxiety.
3) Black community's perception of the event as one more in a long series of violent actions of the police against members of the african-american community, also tapped into the anger and resentment of the African American community. The differential treatment of African Americans even today is a well documented fact, and the larger impact of COVID in inner cities populations and in the African American community is a fact that is now being documented. The anger, resentment and anxiety that the social injustice generates has been building up for years, and it is real and justified. The incident was the proverboial straw.
4) As a matter of principle, not only Black but ALL life matters. The African Amnerican community has a justified reason to feel particularly targeted, but our police forces (which are generally well trained and supportive) need to put in place effective screening of Police Officers and periodic psychological evaluations to make sure our law enforcement agencies are indeed the best they can be and that they treat all citizens with respect.
5) Whenever there is social unrest and violence, there are always those who take advantage of the situation to loot and to steal. To use these people to paint the whole movement is inaccurate, shortsighted and frankly, offensive to those who have a real reason to complain.
So what is the "Jewish Twist" to this?
a) Some anti Israel groups have taken advantage of the chaos generated by the demonstrations to push their own agenda and attempt to take over the movement. Drawing parallels between police violence and targeting of blacks with the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is, again, inaccurate and misleading. Nevertheless, some anti Israel elements took to the streets not in the name of George Floyd, but as an opportunity to target Israel.
b) Some elements in the African American community see Jews as "super whites" with priviledges, so their anger is easily redirected. And when much of the Jewish neighborhood is part of the route of a demonstration, anti semitic and anti Israel grafitti is expected.
c) In the Jewish community we have been doing a really poor job in educating our own people about Jews of Color. For many of our people, a Jew is still an Ashkenazi Jew from Europe, and of course white. Some may have come to accept Sephardim from Northern Africa (brownish). But the idea of Black Jews, or Oriental ones, is still one that many of our people find difficult to accept. Yet they are part of who we are.
Our tradition mandate us to listen, not just to hear. Hearing can be a passive exercise, but listening is an active verb; we need to invest ourselves in the dialogue, with other ethnic communities, and with members of our own community who do not fit the pre-concieved mold. To keep our communities, our society, and indeed our country strong, we need to LISTEN, we need to acknowledge the pain of others and we need to invest ourselves in righting the wrongs. That is what Tikkun Olam means. We need to remember that Justice is not "Just Us".
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