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June 2, 2020 9:39 am

Jewish, Pro-Israel Groups Express Outrage Over Death of George Floyd, Concern About Rioting

avatar by Jackson Richman / JNS.org

Hordes of people protest against police violence one day after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, while in police custody in Minneapolis, May 26, 2020. Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Jewish and pro-Israel organizations have expressed outrage over the death of African-American George Floyd, 46, who died on May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Police officer Derek Chauvin put his left knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25, according to the criminal complaint against the officer, causing Floyd physical distress to the point where he lost consciousness and needed medical attention. Three other police officers were also on site. The incident, filmed on civilian phones, went viral.

Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a city convenience store and deli.

His death has caused nationwide protests and rioting even after Chauvin was fired, along with other three officers, the day after the incident. He was formally charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29.

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On Saturday, the Anti-Defamation League, in addition to lamenting Floyd’s death, called law enforcement and the US justice system “a racist and unjust system.”

“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,” said ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement.

Although Greenblatt acknowledged that the charges against Chauvin as “a necessary first step in the pathway towards justice,” it’s one that “is simply not enough” in which the three other now-former officers “need to be held responsible for their actions to the fullest extent of our legal system.”

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) echoed the ADL’s sentiments, while slamming US President Donald Trump’s response to the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

“The events this week in Minneapolis are unconscionable, heartbreaking and indicative of the rise of racism and hatred in America in recent years,” said JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer in a statement on May 29. “We simply cannot be silent as innocent Americans like George Floyd are targeted because of their race and killed.”

Soifer went on to say that her organization “stands with the Black community and with those peacefully protesting this violence” and that JDCA is “shaken—yet sadly not surprised—to see the President of the United States using his platform to incite violence against fellow Americans, amplify racist language, and directly quote one of the most notorious segregationists of the 20th century, George Wallace.”

In addition to condemning Floyd’s death, Jewish organizations also mourned the deaths of other black people fatally shot by law enforcement and, in one case, by two white residents.

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) said on Sunday, “We stand among the mourners for George Floyd, Breonna TaylorAhmaud Arbery and too many others whose lives were cut short by racism and injustice. Words are not a sufficient response to these tragic deaths; they must inspire us to action. We renew our commitment to work toward a more just and inclusive society.”

DMFI went on to say, “We stand in solidarity with black Americans who are peacefully protesting against the ongoing violence directed at their community and we are repulsed by President Trump’s continuing effort to stoke the racism infecting our society.”

In a statement to JNS, the Republican Jewish Coalition said, “Like all civilized people, we grieve for George Floyd and his family. His murder was outrageous, and rightfully brings an important conversation to the public forefront. We need to do more in this country to protect minority and other vulnerable groups including the Jewish community.

“The peaceful protests are an important piece in facilitating that conversation. The rioting and looting we have seen the past few nights only serves to hurt the process to bring about much needed change, and will divide us further. Violence in the streets must be addressed swiftly and effectively and law and order must be restored so that citizens and business owners will no longer suffer and so that the memory of George Floyd can serve as a catalyst for change.”

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “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 GarnerTamir RiceTrayvon MartinSandra BlandOscar GrantPhilando CastileWalter ScottTerrence CrutcherSamuel DuboseMichael 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.”

The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, passed a Resolution on Racial Injustice and Police Brutality in 2016 in response to racial-related incidents surrounding law enforcement nationwide, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at reducing decades of historically high levels of inequality, especially in our prison system, and for its members across the country to form deep, meaningful relationships with local communities across lines of faith and race, in order to better understand the issues that impact us all and to be in solidarity with movements for racial justice and inequality.

“We are dismayed that since then, insufficient progress has been made and as we bear witness today to the brutality of treatment and subsequent death of George Floyd by law enforcement, and we cannot remain silent,” said the RA in a statement. “As the Torah teaches, we will not stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is shed (Lev. 19:16).”

The RA went on to say that “the scourge of racism is prevalent in only some but far too much of our law enforcement and must be addressed and those guilty of abuse must be held accountable to the strictest penalty. It has become painfully evident that the overwhelming majority of decent officers and others entrusted with police powers and their oversight have not been able to make the necessary changes to a system that disproportionally targets minority communities and people of color.”

“United in purpose, we will dismantle the systemic racism all too embedded still within American law enforcement and its justice system,” added the RA. “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.”

We are saddened, sickened, and outraged to have seen another broadcast video of an African-American man dying at the hands of police officers.

In a statement, the Orthodox Union said, “Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a political issue. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As religious Jews, we believe the most important starting point for the national discourse that must take place is the recognition that all people are created in the image of G-d and that each human life is of infinite value. Indeed, the United States of America was founded upon this principle and, at its best, persistently strives to make it manifest in America’s laws and policies.”

StandWithUs said in a statement that the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery have “once again ripped open deep wounds in America, particularly for the black community. We hope this will become a catalyst for people of all backgrounds to come together and work towards a more just society that will heal those wounds.”

‘Heal and address that which divides us’

In a statement, B’nai B’rith International said, alluding to recent race-related incidents, “When a person of color [like Arbery] cannot go out jogging for fear his life will end and [like Taylor] cannot have a police encounter that does not result in his death and [like Christian Cooper] 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,” said the organization, which added that charging Chauvin for Floyd’s death “is just the start,” and that the three other officers “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,” added B’nai B’rith.

“The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading membership organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, condemns the senseless murder of George Floyd,” the organization’s executive vice president, Rabbi Mark Dratch, told JNS. “He, like every human being, was created in the image of Almighty, and the loss of his life is a tragedy.”

“Furthermore, we stand together with all who fight racism, bigotry and hatred,” continued Dratch, who added, “We also condemn the lawlessness of the few who defile the memory of George Floyd and others, by rioting and looting. The key to effecting positive change is through peaceful demonstration, not through destroying property, looting and harming others.”

Finally, the riots nationwide have caused damage to businesses and other buildings, including synagogues and kosher restaurants.

“Looting, defacing and damaging property only serve to diminish the cause of justice, and do nothing to address the root causes of racism that should concern all of us,” said Simon Wiesenthal Center Executive Director Rabbi Meyer May.

“Jewish community leaders were among the first to join civil-rights marches with Martin Luther King Jr. and walked shoulder to shoulder with him. We join in support of today’s responsible black leaders in their goal of eliminating racism and bigotry,” he continued. “At the same time, we call upon these black leaders to join with us to denounce the hate and bigotry that was, once again, unjustly and irrationally directed at the Jewish community.”

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