Confronting Past and Present Evils with Constructive Responses

The evils imposed on us by this week’s crisis might be better channeled into proactive rather than reactive measures designed to foment hatred at institutions designed to serve and protect all the people. Although sincerely motivated, grandiose acts of protests such as rallies and marches must be weighed against staying safe during this pandemic.

How then can we who are filled with horror express our intense desire to seek an immediate justice for those responsible for the unjust killing of a handcuffed African-American?  The video of this tragic event vividly captures a police officer holding a man’s neck in a choke-hold with his knee.  That man, George Floyd, gasped that he could not breathe.  Yet, the officer did nothing to ease the fatal pressure.  Nor did the other three officers who just stood by and watched.  The actions of the four are recorded for all to watch and hear the reality of racism being carried out, yet again, to its extreme.  The question posed now, is how to best respond and achieve some lasting changes in the system? Pandemic crisis notwithstanding, surely fairness, morality and ethical behavior is the stuff that law is made of in democratic societies.   A zero tolerance for acts of abuse should be the standard of practice of any police department in any place or time.  Complete transparency of all who serve should be a matter of public record.

A heartfelt sorrow goes out to the victim, to George Floyd’s family and friends, and to all those in the past who had to pay the ultimate price for racists in power. Still, whatever our color, religion or ethnicity, we cannot go out and advocate a “take-over” of streets, shops and businesses, along with breaking windows and otherwise giving vent to deep-seated feelings of injustice.  In the words of black business leader Robert Woodson, “The violent protests in Minneapolis and around the country are devastating the people in whose name they demand justice.”

That said, is it too much to ask that we will learn from what we see?  Whether in time of crisis or not, public pressure expressed through social media, TV and newspapers, should be placed on any agency or institution to immediately fire any official who uses his or her authority to practice discrimination.  In cases where physical harm is committed, the offender should face a court of law.

Dr. Bernice King reminded us recently of her father’s enduring message in the power of togetherness that we all must stand together and fight injustice by non-violent methods.  “We want to change things and we want it now. But change never comes through violence.  It is not a solution. Violence in fact creates more violence.” The black mayor of Minneapolis understood this notion of standing together.  Mayor Jacob Frey did not state that it is the right of retribution for blacks and other minorities who have been singled out for abuse by those agencies designed to protect the ‘people.’  Instead he speaks of what is right for “our city, our community.”

Jews are no strangers to acts of bias, hatred and murder.  Six million paid the ultimate price when bigotry was the legal order of the day.  In the years since World War II, we have witnessed three generations of a resurgence of anti-Semitic outbreaks and hate crimes.  Perhaps the massive media coverage that the coronavirus has generated will also focus light on the odious breakdown of just and moral human behavior. Perhaps had there been press coverage of what was known or surmised about where the trainloads of Jews were heading, they could not have operated so effectively. Let us ensure that never happens again. Let us speak up individually and collectively for justice and for peace and work together to prevail over racism and prejudice without resorting to violence.

About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro College, in New York City.
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