Lo tirtzach / Thou shalt not murder
– Exodus 20:13
This past weekend, we celebrated Shavuot, the holiday when Jews recommit to our covenant and commitment to Torah, symbolized by our acceptance of the ten commandments. The commandment ringing in our ears most loudly as we return from this holiday into yet another whirlwind of police violence against Black Americans is this one: Thou shalt not murder.
We are devastated by the murders of George Floyd z”l and all the Black residents of our region and country who have died because of racism, white supremacy, and police violence — and by the fact that so many more, including Black members of the Jewish community, continue to experience the deadly consequences of racism every day.
To help us process and contextualize events of the last few days and what we can do in response, I want to offer some words from my colleague and teacher, Kimberly Perry, Executive Director of DC Action for Children, followed by resources JUFJ is compiling for action and learning:
When watching the video of George Floyd’s murder, I heard him call for his mother. My heart sank and broke into pieces. And, then the rage ensued, again. Four hundred years of injustice kind of rage.
Since 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was murdered by brutal, public lynching in 1955, thousands of Black boys and men, and Black girls and women have also been murdered at the hands of white racists — and systemic racism. Each of their Black lives mattered. They were loved. Loved by their families, friends and communities.
While much in the world has changed since 1955, the blatant disregard for Black lives has not. The difference is that today it is increasingly captured on film. Our children and young people are watching. The whole world is watching, and this weekend’s protests are another sign that people are tired of waiting for justice, as anger and frustration at a broken system boils over…
As the scholar Ibram X. Kendi reminds us, “the opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’” Racism attacks every facet of our society, creating horrific disparities in education, health, criminal justice and our economy. We need to talk explicitly about racism as the through-line in these inequalities, and we need that talk to lead to anti-racist action.
We also need more than just kind words from our elected officials. DC is in the midst of passing a historic budget that will have long lasting repercussions for the future of the District. This is their moral document, and their opportunity to rise to the occasion and show their commitment to anti-racist principles and policy priorities.
Kimberly is writing about DC, but the work must be done across our region, our nation, our world.
JUFJ has been engaged in the work of systemic change, including changes in policing, for years. In addition to our ongoing work, we are compiling local actions each of us can take and organizations we can support to promote racial justice and respond to racist police violence. We are also gathering educational resources from partners, and from members of our community, that can help shape our understanding of this moment, what has led to it, and what can come out of it. We will update these lists as we learn about other actions to take or resources to share — keep checking back.
Please join us in raising our collective Jewish voice in support of Black lives.
Organizations to Support
The organizations listed here are working toward police reform and toward direct relief for people who are survivors of police violence. We encourage you to support them financially if you are able. In addition to our local partners in Maryland and DC, we are including organizations in Minnesota recommended by our partners at Jewish Community Action in the Twin Cities.
Actions to Take
DEMAND that local governments take action against police killings of Black residents here in our own region, not just condemn police violence that is safely far away in other jurisdictions.
Our partners in the Silver Spring Justice Coalition are demanding action from the Montgomery County government in response to the killings of Emanuel Okutuga, Robert White, and Finan Berhe. They are also collecting reports of police misconduct, in tandem with our partners at Young People for Progress.
Our partners at the Citizens Policing Project are demanding action from Baltimore City government, as well as state leaders, to substantively rein in the Baltimore Police Department after the murder of Freddie Gray.
VOTE for local officials who will invest in communities and in public health approaches to safety, like violence interrupters.
In Tuesday’s local elections in DC and Baltimore, we chose who will oversee the police, and who can implement policies and budgets to advance real racial equity in our cities. We are still waiting for results in Baltimore, and DC has a special election in Ward 2 on Tuesday, June 16. Ward 2 voters, request your ballots by June 9.
TESTIFY at the DC Council with our #JustRecoveryDC campaign. Among other things, we are requesting that DC Council use the $30 million slated for new police cars and hiring new police officers to instead fund more community violence interrupters and human services.
JUFJ will be testifying at the Committee of the Whole on June 17 and 18. SURJ-DC will be testifying on policing at the Judiciary Committee on June 15. Stop Police Terror Project DC has prepared talking points on how to testify about the police budget.
ATTEND a JUFJ event to learn how to work toward antiracist police reform in DC, Montgomery County, and across Maryland.
- Tuesday, June 9, 12:00 PM: Montgomery County 101 (advocacy training for new folks)
- Wednesday, June 10, 6:30 PM: #JustRecoveryDC team call on DC’s militarized police
- Sunday, June 14, 7:00 PM: Montgomery County equitable COVID response call
- Tuesday, June 16, 12:00 PM: Montgomery County equitable COVID response call
- Wednesday, June 24, 8:00 PM: Maryland COVID response team strategy call
JOIN a JUFJ team working on police reform in one of our jurisdictions:
- Baltimore Action Team
- Montgomery County Policing and Racial Equity Team
- DC Just Recovery Team
- Maryland Equal Justice Team
All of these teams meet over Zoom, and you can talk to a local organizer about how to get involved.
GET SUPPORT for your mental and spiritual health. Faith Matters Network and Ruach are both providing free pastoral care for the Jewish community, for faith-based activists, and for the general population. Reach out if you are in need of their support.
Resources to Read
“‘Believe us’: Black Jews respond to the George Floyd protests, in their own words”
Includes reflections from JUFJ DC Leadership Council member Evan Traylor.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge.”
Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracist reading list
Advocates push back against police officers in schools, Washington Post
Memorial for victims of police violence, Bethesda Magazine
Maryland House of Delegates forms police accountability workgroup, Maryland Matters
SURJ-DC’s “Alternatives to Calling the Police”
Background on police violence in DC (Washington City Paper, 2017)
The movement to defund DC police (Washington City Paper, 2020)
Your Baltimore Syllabus: readings on the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, and the history behind it.
“It wasn’t one cop who killed George Floyd,” Maryland Matters
Resources for teachers to discuss police killings and protests.
Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism, and resistance.
This list will be updated.
Know Your Rights Training
Sunday, June 30, 2:30 PM at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church
2700 South 19th Street, Arlington, VA
AFT Protest Rally
Friday, July 12, 12:00 PM at Customs and Border Patrol
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW