For the common good

I can’t stop watching. The images coming out of my home country of America are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. I feel like the whole country is burning down. It’s reminiscent of the civil rights footage we’ve all seen before. But something very different is taking place.

I waited two days to watch the George Floyd video. I was already terrified of the still images circulating on social media. But when I finally sat down and watched it, it was more horrifying than I ever could have imagined. The video clearly seems to portray police officers murdering this young man. It is both the saddest and most alarming thing I’ve ever seen. These four police officers have to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And, please God, their firing will mark the beginning of that process.

In response to this and other travesties, there have been many participating in peaceful protests against police brutality. They are focused on fundamentally changing American culture for the better. They want justice in the George Floyd case. They have legitimate concerns and have a deep love of community. Their voices need to be heard. But unfortunately, they are not alone.

There is a flood of videos and pictures of people looting and rioting all over the country. These violent protests are in stark contradiction to those demanding justice. The looters and rioters are only focused on one thing: bringing down society. They do not want a democratic future in America and they are not interested in forwarding a political process. Their voices must be drowned out.

Many wish to advance the protests and the riots, which is a horrible mistake. There are political leaders, pop culture figures, and those in the media who condone the actions of the rioters. They say things such as, ‘because of systemic racism, the community is to do penance’. ‘These violent acts were bound to happen and the innocent just have to take it on the head’. ‘America is at fault’.

These are false and destructive pronouncements.

The riots need to stop. No society can function when the social contract is destroyed in this way. What needs to happen is that a line has to be drawn in the sand. What America had coming to it is the emotional outpouring of the minority community. The protests were bound to come and they should have. They should be encouraged.

But looting can never be allowed. And even more important, the two activities — protesting and rioting — are not the same thing. In fact, they are not even being carried out by the same groups. To conflate the two destroys the message of the protests. The rioting is not what the Floyd family wants; according to the victim’s relatives, it’s not what George Floyd would have wanted either.

What is needed right now is to focus on what we agree on. We all agree that police brutality is wrong. We all agree that the perpetrators of the crimes must be brought to swift justice. They must face their day in court, with due process. The way to forward political discourse is through peaceful protest; the way justice is served in a democracy is through the legal system.

But more than that must be done. Policies need to be enacted to combat these issues. There needs to be reform in police procedures. Statistics show that there are things that can be done to lower the incidence of police brutality. Here are just a few examples: adopt a more restrictive use-of-force policy to include things such as de-escalation tactics, reduce the enforcement of low-level offenses — fewer arrests leads to fewer shootings — and last but not least, outlaw tactics like chokeholds when restraining a suspect.

These are just a few starting points for a necessary national conversation — and it must begin now. We also must recognize that there have been problems in regard to how both sides have been portrayed. Just as the protesters are not the rioters, so too not all police are evil. There’s been plenty of footage showing police shaking hands, hugging, and marching with those involved in peaceful demonstrations. To move forward in this divisive time we must focus on that which binds us. There is a great deal of good on both sides and it must be used to forge ahead — for the common good.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish educator. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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