in this final week of Elul 5780 —
Dear Jewish Organizations and Synagogues who Say Black Lives Matter,
In June, hundreds of Jewish organizations and congregations signed a statement of support for Black Lives Matter. That statement focused on addressing deliberate attempts to divide us:
There are politicians and political movements in this country who build power by deliberately manufacturing fear to divide us against each other….
…We’ll show up for each other every time one of us is targeted because of our differences, and reject any effort to use fear to divide us against each other.
The statement also declared sacred the work of pursuing justice, affirming Jewish support for Black-led organizing toward accountability and transparency from officials and police:
We support the Black-led movement in this country that is calling for accountability and transparency from the government and law enforcement. We know that freedom and safety for any of us depends on the freedom and safety of all of us.
…Jewish tradition teaches us that justice is not something that will be bestowed upon us, it is something that we need to pursue, and that the pursuit is itself sacred work. (Emphasis in original.)
Despite this public commitment, Jewish groups have been remarkably silent in the face of DC police shooting a youth, just barely 18, to death on a District street, September 2, 2020. Despite promises to do so, Jewish organizations and congregations have not been actively joining Stop Police Terror DC and Black Lives Matter DC in calling for accountability and transparency from government and from police. (See joint statement; more below.)
Signatories to the June letter should be prepared to stand behind our words with commitment to teshuvah [repentance] for this killing. The killing should be of national concern. At minimum, we need a greater response from signatories who live, work, and worship within DC.
The June letter is signed (on quick review) by at least 12 congregations located inside DC, more outside the city with members living and working in DC, and national organizations with offices in DC. With a few exceptions — Jews United for Justice forwarded the joint statement of Stop Police Terror/BLM DC, for example — Jewish groups have been far too silent in response to this trauma within our city and to the abject failure of our government in terms of that stated goal: “freedom and safety for all of us.“
At the very least, those who have declared “we say, unequivocally: Black Lives Matter” must object to the normalizing of young Black death, in our nation’s capital and around the country, and demand re-examination of “gun recovery” policy and practice that regularly leads to Black people being harassed and hunted, even to death. (See DC Justice Lab proposals. See also Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense call for transparency.)
Those of us who are white and/or living in relative safety must stop accepting a system that funds infrastructure to our benefit while we regularly avoid consequences of uneven funding and the uneven presence and impact of police.
Jewish silence has long contributed to the conditions that led to the September 2nd killing, and Jews — whether part of groups which signed in June or not — have much teshuvah to do for this. We add to our sins if we do not mention the name, Deon Kay, and commit to seeking better conditions as 5781 begins.
Virginia Avniel Spatz
long-time resident of DC
active, over the years, in many Jewish congregations/organizations, including BLM support signatories
SHARE HERE: If you would like to add your name to THIS letter and/or report on Jewish response to the killing of Deon Kay, use this contact form. This blog will endeavor to update as quickly as possible, so we can all see how Jews are following through on the Black Lives Matter declaration.
See also statements of DC Police Reform Commission, an official body of the DC Council, and these from ACLU of DC and DC Action for Children.
News: Washington Informer and Washington City Paper (solid local reporting, with no paywall). Also: Washington City Paper “What Deon Kay’s Mentors Want You to Know…”
- Fire MPD Chief Peter Newsham
- Launch a fully independent investigation into the death of Deon Kay
- Fire MPD Officer Alexander Alvarez
- Defund the DC Metropolitan Police Department and fully invest in community-led resources
- Require that all released videos include audit trails that show who accessed the video and how and if it was edited, so that transparency can reduce the risk that the videos are doctored.
- Require that MPD explicitly clarify why officers’ faces in released footage are redacted, define who are considered “officers involved” before releasing footage, and include those officers’ names and faces in the footage.
- Require that MPD state explicitly when naming “officers involved” which officer committed the act (rather than officers who were on the scene)