A Far Cry from Justice

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The Williamsburg Shomrim 5, Taj Patterson & Our Call to Speak Out Against Racism, Homophobia and Hate

On Wednesday, five members of the Orthodox security patrol (the Williamsburg Shomrim) were charged with gang assault for the brutal beating of Taj Patterson, a 22-year-old black gay student. This is potentially a step forward, toward accountability. However, it is a far cry from real justice.

We were shocked and angered when we first learned of the attack on Taj last December. As leaders of different Jewish social justice organizations, we represent a broad range of Jews, from secular to Orthodox and everyone in between. While our Jewish identities may be varied, we are united in our commitment to social, racial and economic justice — and in our commitment to justice for Taj in this case.

We cannot ignore that this case is not isolated. The Orthodox Shomrim have been given license to operate as vigilante-style police in the name of supposed community safety, which has led to a pattern of violence and intimidation. The city must not turn a blind eye to this violence. Real justice for Taj includes ensuring incidents like this never happen again.

As Jews, we have a responsibility to counter and heal racism and homophobia in our communities. This means working with our allies in communities of color to fight the systemic violence against communities of color — such as the racial profiling experienced daily by black and brown people all over this city — and working with LGBTQ communities to counter patterns of violence and messages of hate. It also means centering and supporting the leadership of Jews of color and LGBTQ Jews in our organizations, synagogues, and communities.

Real justice is far from here. But together, we can take steps toward that vision. Wherever there is hate, bigotry, or violence, we must rise to offer a stronger counterforce of love, healing, and justice.

A joint statement from Marjorie Dove Kent, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, Orthodox Social Justice.