We cannot remain bystanders

Take action and learn how to intervene when we witness violence

We head into Shabbat with our hearts heavy. This week has forced us to relive our trauma over the murder of George Floyd in vivid detail. The most striking and painful aspect of the trial testimony so far is the moral injury of witness after witness, all of whom were forced to watch as Derek Chauvin killed Mr. Floyd, but could not save his life.

We also saw the video of the horrific assault on Vilma Kari, a 65-year old Filipino woman, in front of a midtown building — another attack in the wave of anti-Asian hate violence sweeping the country. And almost as terrible as the assault itself was the reaction of bystanders in the building, who appeared to ignore the woman's cries for help, and instead closed the doors of the building to her. The incident, and the bystanders' reaction, is still being investigated. But the video is heartbreaking to watch.

As Kim Le writes in Vox today,

"All of these acts of violence are fueled by very different cultural factors and motives — but each asks us to examine the same searing question: What obligations do we have to one another? For years, I turned over the details of my assault again and again in my mind, recollecting the faces of bystanders, explaining the crowd’s inaction in a layman’s version of the bystander effect — as collective impotence, collective cowardice. I know cowardice: It has often barred me from acting in the heroic ways I expected myself to act. For me, the cure for fear is not public shame, but a reckoning with the impact of my inaction: Inaction, to a victim, is negation."

We must not remain bystanders. For the sake of our neighbors, and for the sake of our own souls.

I hope all members of the JFREJ community will attend an upstander training, watch a video to learn upstander intervention skills, and review the resources available to help us learn how to safely intervene when we witness an act of violence.

  • Finally, if you can't attend an interactive training, you can still watch this great video from the Barnard Center for Research on Women: