Jewish People of Color, along with other Jews, Hold Vigil, Action, & Civil Disobedience to Demand Police Accountability

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NEW YORK CITY – Led by Jews of Color working with Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), hundreds of Jewish New Yorkers marched through the West Village to show their unwavering support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to demand that the NYC Council pass the Right To Know Act. The action was a multiracial gathering led by Black Jewish movement leaders as well rabbis and rabbinic students, and others. They were joined by a diverse crowd who shared their grief and outrage through song, prayer, and ritual. The action culminated in a civil disobedience outside the 6th precinct in the West Village, in which seven Jews of Color were arrested. They were:

April Baskin, Vice President at the Union for Reform Judaism Leo Ferguson, Community Organizer at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice Graie Barasch-Hagans, Community Organizer at POWER, a member of the PICO National Network Jason Salmon, Jews of Color Caucus Member Leader at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice Yumi Tomsha, Performing artist and Jews of Color Caucus member at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice Julia Carmel, Jews of Color Caucus Member at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice Mark Tseng-Putterman, Media Justice Campaigner at 18 Million Rising; Jews of Color Caucus Member Leader at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice

Reflecting on his arrest, along with 6 other Jews of Color, Leo Ferguson, Community Organizer at JFREJ said,

“I chose to put my body at risk and allow myself to be dragged off in handcuffs because I wanted to show my Jewish community something that we don't always see plainly or understand: my reality as a Black, Jewish person is a different, more delicate and tenuous existence. Black people throughout this country live in fear of police violence; of mass incarceration; of having their civil rights and human rights violated; of having their love ones taken away from them. As a Black person, I don't have the luxury of walking away from this reality, or of abandoning my Black siblings when they need me to fight alongside them for justice and freedom from fear. Last night, in a hot jail cell, I reflected on how terrifying this would have been had I not had hundreds of members of my Jewish family in the streets, on the other side of a cinderblock wall, fighting and praying for my physical and spiritual liberation. That commitment to our movement — to Jews of Color, and Black people everywhere — is what I need from my entire Jewish community, not only when it is easy but when it is hard. I have never been more proud of Jews than I was last night — the clarity of our vision; our commitment to our own dignity as a people, whether Black, brown or white; the power of our empathy. This is how we move forward, together."

The powerful event was described as the Jews4BlackLives: Freedom Now Tisha b’Av (a Jewish day of mourning) and was focused on mourning those lost to police violence, while also demonstrating the depth of our community’s spirit of resolve, resistance, and solidarity with Black people’s struggle for liberation. Jews of Color opened the evening with a ritual placing of stones on an altar, referencing the Jewish tradition of placing stones on the graves of lost loved ones. During the civil disobedience at the end of the action, Black Jews, rabbis, and rabbinic students read from Lamentations, blew the shofar (ram’s horn) and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Another member of the group who was arrested, April Baskin, Vice President at the Union for Reform Judaism, said:

“Black Lives Matter is a Jewish issue because there are Black Jews. The freedom and safety of Black people is tied to our Jewish values for justice and safety for everyone. Our country collectively has not been vocal enough.”

The only way we can ensure a future in which Black Lives Matter and the police are trusted and respected by all is if white Jews, and all Americans, actively participate in the campaigns for racial justice and police accountability being waged all across the country by local organizations, especially those led by people of color. We can win, but only by creating movements too powerful to be ignored. In this struggle there is no neutral ground — if the Jewish community isn’t part of the solution, then it is part of the problem.

Shoshana Brown, a Jew of Color and a leader in JFREJ, addressed the Jewish community at large, calling for an increased and more active Jewish participation within the Movement for Black Lives:

“We are here today because Black Lives Matter. Within our Jewish community and beyond, Black Lives Matter, and we will not sit silent — as Jews and as human beings, we cannot be complicit with police violence and systemic racism. We are calling for immediate action to end the unrestricted cash flow into failed policing strategies. That means the immediate divestment from a system that criminalizes & incarcerates our people in states and municipalities across the country. Billions of dollars are spent on policing, while our education, health and housing suffer. Enough. It’s time to promote the economic stability and true safety of our communities— we must have a say over the institutions meant to serve us. We are done, we have had enough, the time for transformation of the system is now. As we enter the weeks leading to Tisha b’Av, this is a sacred time for Jews to take a stand against atrocities happening right now, as we also remember those that have happened to us in the past. We say no more!”

The rally also foregrounded the Jewish community’s intense support for the Right To Know Act. A year after over 50 rabbis signed a letter pushing for passage of the Act, Jewish support for the legislation has never been higher. A line of rabbis joined the families, elders and Jews of Color leading the march.

The Right to Know Act is vital, common sense police reform legislation that would require officers to identify themselves to civilians in non-emergency interactions and protect New Yorkers from unlawful and improper police searches where a person’s consent is the only legal basis for it. JFREJ, along with 200+ organizations that represent thousands of New Yorkers from across the city are demanding passage of the legislation, which has support from a majority of Council members.

JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus member Rosa Jaffe added:

“As a Jew of color, a born and raised New Yorker, and a mother of a Jewish black daughter I know how important the Right To Know Act is. Black lives matter, my life matters, and my daughter's life matters. Help pass the Right to Know Act to support this!”

Mark Tseng Putterman, a member of JFREJ’s Jews of Color Caucus says:

"Millions of New Yorkers are frightened, distrustful, and disillusioned with the crisis of police brutality and the lack of accountability in instances of police violence. The Right to Know Act is simple, no-nonsense policy that will make all New Yorkers — and police officers — safer on the streets we all call home. Speaker Mark-Viverito is silencing the people's will by refusing to allow the bill to come to a floor vote. The Right To Know Act is one effective step to make sure that all New Yorkers, especially those most targeted by police misconduct, can begin to rebuild trust in the police."

On Saturday, JFREJ will hold a Tisha b’Av service at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. On Tisha b’Av, we mourn acts of destruction and systemic violence against the Jewish people. Recently and throughout our history we have seen many acts of destruction and systematic violence against Black people and Black communities. Our multiracial Jewish communities cannot separate out the destruction of life in the targeting of Jewish communities and communal institutions from the destruction of life in the targeting of Black communities and communal institutions. This Tisha b’Av we join our mourning together: Eicha - how can this be. How can this be what is still happening in our world today?

Shoshana Brown on Saturday’s service:

“If you choose to observe Tisha b’Av, do so this year in honor of all Black people who have lost their lives to police violence. This Tisha B’av, we mourn not only the Jews killed and attacked around the globe for centuries, but the Black people killed or attacked right here, in our city, in our country each day. I am a Black Jew. I am a Jew for Black Lives. Black Lives Matter.” (Shoshana Brown)



Jason Salmon, JFREJ Member Leader, Liaison to Communities United for Police Reform, member of JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus

Leo Ferguson, JFREJ Staff Organizer and Founder of the Jews of Color Caucus

Shoshana Brown, JFREJ Member Leader, member of JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus

Alexis Ortiz, JFREJ Member Leader, member of JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus

Andrea Herrera, JFREJ Member Leader, member of JFREJ Jews of Color Caucus

April Baskin, Vice President, Audacious Hospitality, Executive Team, Union for Reform Judaism


About Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

For 25 years, Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) has pursued racial and economic justice in New York City by advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in people’s everyday lives. We are inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power.

The movement to dismantle racism and economic exploitation will be led by those most directly targeted by oppression. We believe that Jews have a vital role to play in this movement. The future we hope for depends on Jews forging deep and lasting ties with our partners in struggle.

For More Information

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

Jews4BlackLives: Call to Action, 8/9/16

#FreedomNow: Eyes on the Prize

Movement for Black Lives Statement, 7/20/16

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

Press Release, 7/14/16

Communities United for Police Reform

Press Release, 7/13/16

Police, People of Color, and a Jewish Dream of Justice

Op-Ed in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Leo Ferguson, 7/13/16

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

Shabbat Reflection, 7/8/16