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Rabbi's Week in Review - 4/25/2023

04/25/2023 11:30:36 AM

Apr25

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for our city. There was the shooting of Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old black kid who had the temerity to mistakenly go to the wrong house to pick up his siblings. This was one of a number of shootings that occurred when someone made a simple mistake — entering the wrong driveway, going to the wrong car — mistakes I have made and will probably make again.

There were a number of troubling events after Ralph was shot — three neighbors refusing Ralph help after he was shot, the release of the person who shot Ralph two hours after he was originally picked up by police, allowing the same perpetrator to go free on bail after his arrest, and not doing more (to my knowledge, at this point) to pursue federal charges of a hate crime. Evidence is that the perpetrator shot Ralph through his still-locked glass door out of fear of seeing a black person on his doorstep.

I attended the press conference at the federal courthouse last week presented by organizations including the Urban League, SCLC and Missouri NAACP. Representatives from these organizations spoke powerfully about the ongoing injustices foisted on the black community. In Missouri, a long-ago-instituted travel warning issued by the NAACP is still in place, warning the black community that it is unsafe to travel through Missouri. Annual reports issued by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for years have shown that black and brown drivers are stopped by law enforcement at an extremely disproportionately higher rate.

Two observations from last week: First, that in addition to leaders from long-standing civil rights organizations, there was a strong presence from young Black Lives Matter leaders. They held a powerful rally after the press conference. The crowd was younger and involved on a daily basis in fighting against racial injustice. It was also a very diverse crowd, an equal mix of black and white, queer and straight. Amongst this younger group were people running for City Council.  All of which is a hopeful sign for the future.

The other observation was the disappointment expressed at the response from Kansas City’s relatively new chief of police. I say this as Chief Stacey Graves will be our speaker at Kol Ami on Friday, May 5, before our Shabbat worship. We arranged for her to speak long before Ralph Yarl’s shooting. Congregants have reached out to me to express their own sense of disappointment that we are giving Chief Graves a platform to speak, that it gives tacit approval not only to her handling of the shooting but also to a long, long history of racism within the department, and police abuse against the transgender and broader queer community and other marginalized communities.

In arranging for Chief Graves to speak at Kol Ami, I neither expect to give her a free pass nor ambush her. I did and do expect that we will ask serious questions about the long, bad history of policing, and specifically the track record of KCPD. Not only questions regarding the aforementioned marginalized groups but issues regarding our Jewish community and individual officers connected to white supremacist groups with anti-Semitism as one of their central tenets.

I have long been public in speaking out on issues of policing — speaking out against racism within the department, speaking out on the need for local control of KCPD, and advocating for a DOJ consent agreement. I actually think my views are pro-police. Steps to create greater trust between community and police where understandable distrust now exists will make police more effective in their work and safer.

Whatever your feelings on issues of policing in our city, it is vital that we at Kol Ami are engaged and concerned. Please plan on attending, and creating an environment on May 5 that will lead to forthright answers on these difficult issues and greater understanding.  

Sun, May 19 2024 11 Iyyar 5784