Jewish organisations in the United States have urged members to join peaceful protests against police brutality following the killing of an unarmed black man by a white officer.
George Floyd was being arrested in Minneapolis last week on suspicion of using counterfeit currency when Police Officer Derek Chauvin applied his body weight to Floyd’s neck through his knee while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face-down on the ground.
Despite Floyd repeatedly saying that he could not breathe, and despite onlookers screaming that Floyd was becoming badly injured, Chauvin kept his knee applied for nine minutes. Floyd was visibly unconscious for the final five minutes of this.
The killing, filmed through onlookers’ phones, has shocked and repulsed the country. Chauvin was arrested but only charged with third-degree murder, while his colleagues have not been charged, sparking fury as violent protests took place in several cities.
Jewish groups have urged action, joining calls for reform, with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group, posting images on social media of black men, women and children killed by police officers.
“We condemn the killings of black Americans by law enforcement,” it said. “We stand in solidarity and will do everything in our power to see through systemic changes in law enforcement and in our criminal justice system.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said: “This brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the US… at a time when communities of colour are reeling from the disproportionate health impacts and economic consequences of the pandemic.”
He called on the other police officers involved in Floyd’s death to also face justice, adding: “We stand in solidarity with the black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system… Systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change now.”
Amid clashes with police, the Minneapolis Jewish Community Relations Council was one of many local Jewish groups to review its security arrangements, urging rabbis to remove the Torah from their synagogues in case the buildings were attacked.
In Los Angeles a synagogue was vandalised during protests, with graffiti reading “F**k Israel” and “Free Palestine,” while in protests in Richmond, Virginia, a protester through a brick through the window of Congregation Beth Ahabah, a 200-year-old Reform congregation.
Meanwhile Jewish doctors donned their scrubs and hit the streets to tend to those hurt by violence or crowd-control measures, removing broken glass, tending to wounds and providing asthma inhalers where needed, as non-medical community members helped board up shop fronts.
Many American Jewish families have relatives who joined the civil rights marches alongside the black community in the 1960s, and have described how this week’s clashes resonate with their own experience of prejudice and persecution.
Jewish groups have urged peaceful protest, as well as advocating pressure on lawmakers to fulfil fundamental reforms.
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