As media outlets continue to produce a steady stream of reports of black men being shot by police officers in the United States, members of the black Jewish community are reacting to the crisis and calling on their fellow Jews to act in solidarity.
Moshe Modeira, an entrepreneur and a Jew of Ethiopian decent, said he sees this issue from a somewhat unique position, as part of both the Jewish and black communities.
“So many people are just trying to grapple with it… it puts me in a precarious position being a Jewish person of colour,” Modeira said.
Reacting to the latest shootings of black men south of the border – Anton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota on July 6, and Charles Kinsey, who was caring for his autistic client in Miami on July 21 and was lying on the ground with his hands in the air seconds before he was shot – Modeira said the discussion about law enforcement’s relationship with people of colour needs to happen.
“[I was] trying to move past the last shootings, but then this happens [to Kinsey], and you realize it’s not safe at any point, even when compliant. In many ways, I feel less safe now as a man of colour in 2016 than I did in 2006,” he said.
Beth Kibur, a Barrie-area lawyer who grew up in the Thornhill Jewish community, said the rhetoric surrounding this issue is unhelpful.
She said the Black Lives Matter movement would be most effective if it distanced itself from any kind of violent protest, “otherwise you’re fuelling a fire.”
“Both sides need to come to the middle. Both sides need to acknowledge that they have somewhere to go and violence of any sort at any time is unacceptable and surely, violence will not cure violence, cancer will not cure cancer. It doesn’t work like that,” she said.
“By and large, the police are there to serve and protect whomever they need to serve and protect at the moment… I don’t want to live in a world without police, and I don’t think anyone does, including the Black Lives Matter movement.”
She added that people who are pro-police to the point where they deny there are incidents of bad, brutal behaviour are not helpful.
Non-violent racist interactions between police and black citizens, such as carding programs, are also damaging.
“It was being done exclusively in black communities, and it was done in a hostile way,” she said.
“I actually saw my cousin get carded this year [in Toronto]. It was horrific… He was trying to get to my car, and he was surrounded by four armed, uniformed police officers asking him, ‘Where are you going? What are you doing here?’ Like, you don’t have the right to exist. He was a black guy in the wrong neighbourhood. It was terrifying.”
Modeiira said that keeping a “just-in-case database” on the black people they randomly stopped “was completely illegal and dangerous.”
“I remember being outraged when they were doing the same thing in Hungary a couple years ago when they tried to put every Jew into a database.”
(In 2012, a Hungarian far-right politician urged the government to document Jews who posed a “national security risk.”)
“There needs to be same sort of outrage about things like this,” Modeira said.
Kibur said while she’s sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter cause, she thinks supporters of the movement should channel their energy away from drawing attention to the movement itself and focus more on influencing decision makers.
She referred to the suggestion Dallas Police Chief David Brown made after the deaths of five police officers who were shot by a sniper at the end of a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month.
“He said, ‘We’re hiring, we’re hiring.’ … What don’t you join the police force and make the changes from the inside if you’re so inclined? If not, get into politics. If you don’t want to be a politician, everyone has access to their politicians. They can bring issues forward to their MPs and MPPs,” Kibur said, adding that members of the Jewish community can help in this area.
Krissy Roth, a Jewish woman of colour, who is a policy associate at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in the United States, wrote in Ha’aretz about the need for the Jewish community to speak out for the black community and about the opportunity the current crisis provides for the two communities to build bridges.
“Black Jews can educate the larger community on the black experience and help the community become a more effective ally in this struggle… Jews of colour can help the Jewish community live up to its own aspirations, be a better ally to the African-American community and together work towards an America truly safe and equal for all,” Roth wrote.
Modeira noted that Ashkenazi Jews were at the forefront of the U.S. civil rights movement.
“The only thing I continue to say is that I encourage our community to continue the legacy of tikkun olam, which is what I was raised with – to be a shining example of compassion. The world badly needs more empathy and compassion right now,” he said.
“Within the same week that [the shootings] happened, one of my heroes, Elie Wiesel, passed away, and he’s so famous for the quote, ‘The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference’… It’s the indifference that is the most heartbreaking of all.”