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Rabbi's Week In Review- June 2, 2020

06/02/2020 10:47:43 AM


I had hoped this week to give a more lighthearted look at our own Jewish community via the ongoing discussion within our Kol Ami family on the book and series Unorthodox. Instead, the tragic killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has occupied most of my time this past week and compels a response.

First, foremost and unfortunately, this is not a new or even unusual occurrence. We now have to add George Floyd to a long, tragic list that includes Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and, here in Kansas City, Ryan Stokes. The issue is not simply one of individual bad apples within the police force but a systemic problem of how our society views blacks. Systemic problems require systemic change: a change in the way our police are trained; a change in how police connect with the black community and other communities of color; a change in our political leaders who have, for far too long, turned a blind eye to the problem; and a change in, and honest confrontation with, our own attitude.  

After all, we also faced the experience last week of a “liberal” white woman calling the police in NYC for falsely alleging that her life was under threat by a black man. The black man was birdwatching in Central Park when the woman walked into space he had been occupying.  This man could have been misperceived as a threat by the police and been harmed, when his alleged threat was to tell the woman that she needed to observe the rule in Central Park to keep her dog on a leash. Thus the problem is not one we can tuck away as coming solely from the right.

At the same time, the hatred of white supremacist groups (the same white supremacists who chanted in Charlottesville that “Jews will not replace us” — whatever the hell that means) is finding its way into the protests subsequent to George Floyd’s death. There have been numerous reports of white supremacists coming into protest areas and being participants in the destruction of property, all to sow further division within our country and have hatred win out over reconciliation. Granted, they are not the only ones destroying property or throwing water bottles at police. But their only interest is violence and hatred, not addressing racial injustice. Particularly for us as Jews, the danger posed by these neo-Nazis is palpable and real. We implore our law-enforcement agencies to aggressively address this tide of hatred and protect us from the threat it imposes, so we do not repeat another JCC/Village Shalom tragedy or worse.

As someone who has worked for years in support of the black community and against racism, and as someone who was recently appointed as a chaplain for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, I find myself in uncomfortable territory. I know many “good cops” who take seriously their obligation to protect and serve all of our citizens, and who want to work toward a more trusting relationship between police and the black community. I am honored to provide them whatever pastoral care I can provide. 

Yet, years of a broken system beg for wholesale change in the way our police are trained, including retraining of police who have spent years on the force within a system in need of cultural change. We need more black police and other police officers of color to better reflect the make-up of our community. We need greater transparency in how police do their jobs and when there is an officer-involved shooting. We need to create space for an honest and open discussion in which black leaders and the black community have a voice in how we go forward to create a post-racist society. At this moment, I am particularly saddened by the pain they feel and the fear under which they live.

My work and our work continue now with an increased sense of urgency. G-d willing, if any good is to come out of this, we cannot let this time of aroused concern go by without making real progress. Let us do our part to listen, to hear what is being said by those in pain, and act for a better Kansas City and a better world.

Fri, July 3 2020 11 Tammuz 5780