All lives matter. That’s the first message the Torah gives us about human beings.
"One who sheds blood is regarded as though he had diminished the image of God." Midrash Genesis Rabbah 34:14
"One who destroys a single soul is considered as having destroyed an entire world." Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
For the second time in less than two weeks, a grand jury has declined to indict a white police officer for causing the death of an unarmed black man.
In this case, a coroner ruled the death of Eric Garner a homicide, and a video shows the police officer choking him as he cried for mercy. Yet somehow, the District Attorney could not or would not make the case for a trial. The ruling also raises serious questions about the ability of cameras on police officers--a solution to police brutality now being offered by many of our elected officials--to prevent the murder of poeple of color by law enforcement.
We mourn the senseless death of Eric Garner, and wish comfort for his wife, his family, his friends, and his community.
We commit that his death will not be in vain. We--rabbis, cantors, and members of the Jewish community--demand greater accountability for deaths at the hands of the police. The fact that such deaths disproportionately affect black and brown communities, violates our teaching that "The first human being was created alone. .. lest anyone say 'my father was greater than your father.'" (M. Sanhedrin 4:5). All people are equally precious.
Today, we are reminded of the challenge issued by rabbinical student Sandra Lawson after the decision in the Michael Brown case. Her message for Ferguson now rings true for New York City: “We are commanded to not harden our hearts or shut our hand against our brothers or sisters who are in need. These men who have died are part of us; they are our brothers. The people protesting in the streets of Ferguson are our brothers and sisters. They are part of us, and part of our community. We must speak out to stop racial profiling and we must rid ourselves of the myth that what happens in Ferguson or on the streets of our own cities doesn’t affect us.” Our commitment must be to build a new world of kavod habriyot, human dignity.
Today, we stand with the communities of color who demand that police and prosecutors view their lives as equally deserving of protection and dignity.
As Jews, we have experienced the dangers of being singled out for who we are and how we look. As members of a diverse North American Jewish community, many of us are people of color and many are raising children of color. These real-life experiences reinforce our commitment to ensuring the dignity and safety of every creation in the image of God. We are inspired by the many people of all colors and backgrounds who are taking to the streets to demand justice and change. As one activist from Hands Up United said, "I don't want a better tomorrow, I want a better forever." We must join together to bring that better forever.