Baltimore Jewish Community Reacts to George Floyd’s Death and Protests

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In the days since George Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis, the nation and world have been wracked by protests, fueled by outrage at Floyd’s death and what is viewed as a broader problem with the conduct of American police, particularly in regard to the nation’s black community.

A video showed an officer, Derek Chauvin, keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. All four officers involved in the incident were afterward fired, and Hennepin
County attorney Mike Freeman announced that charges of manslaughter and murder would be brought against Chauvin.

The Baltimore Jewish community has been speaking out in response.

“As an organization and as a people committed to social justice, The Associated stands in solidarity with those that feel the deep inequities in our society, particularly in the Black community,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, in a statement. “At The Associated, we must continue to stand united in the face of injustice and intolerance for all victims of discrimination regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. And we will partner as a network in this effort for a more just and tolerant society.”

Last month, Baltimore marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray and the protests that followed. The Jewish Museum of Maryland marked the anniversary with a look back at the protests.

“Sadly, this week, the country was reminded that those root causes have not been resolved: systemic and structural racism, disparities in access to resources, and a criminal justice system that repeatedly behaves as though black lives do not matter,” wrote Marvin Pinkert, executive director. “The Jewish Museum of Maryland condemns the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family and to the families of Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and all of the too many victims of police-involved deaths.”

Several local congregations also released statements.

In a virtual address to members of Baltimore’s Liberty Grace Church of God, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Congregation Beth Tfiloh said that “as Jews we share in the pain of the African
American community at this time,” according to a statement by Beth Tfiloh. “What happens
to the Freddie Grays in our country happens to Jews in other countries around the world. We must stand together in proclaiming the sanctity of every human life.”

Rabbi Rory Katz of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation offered the statement that “George Floyd’s life was destroyed by the police. As Jews, we are taught: ‘Do not sit idly by the blood of your neighbor’ (Lev. 19:16). When we ignore racism and the systems that cause bloodshed, we are complicit in the destruction of life.”

Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel in Downtown Baltimore also provided comment. “Living in Baltimore City, we know well and sadly see too often the gross inequities, injustices and other stains on our society, and the tragic effects it has on those most vulnerable. We must shine a light on these injustices and constantly work towards bringing increased equity to our communities.”

Jews United for Justice Executive Director Jacob Feinspan urged citizens to take their frustrations to their local polling place, saying that in “local elections in Baltimore, we are choosing who will oversee the police, and who can implement policies and budgets to advance real racial equity in our cities. Voting is far from the only action needed right now. But it is one action we can take — and we must take it.”

The Baltimore Zionist District expressed their sadness at Floyd’s death. “The Baltimore Zionist District is devastated by the murder of George Floyd. We must continue to build a world and community where people of all races, color, and ethnicity feel respect and dignity. We pray for the safety of our community and demand justice,” said Caren Leven,
executive director.

The Baltimore Jewish Council released a statement showing solidarity.

“We commit to taking concrete action to improve relations and enhance understanding between communities here in Baltimore, and between minority groups and law enforcement officials,” the statement read. “Because the function of law enforcement is so vital to society, and … because the majority of law enforcement officials are dedicated public servants, it is incumbent upon us to quickly and effectively address violations
and violators in a manner that preserves public trust and achieves justice and equality for all.”

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