Do Not Stand Idly By: From Ferguson to Baltimore

This Shabbat, there is a verse in our Torah which commands: “Do not stand idly by on the blood of your neighbor.” Since last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, we have witnessed over and over again far too many unarmed people of color die at the hands of law enforcement, most of them African-American males, the latest, of course, being Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Maryland. No one denies that destroying public property is wrong, or that a police officer’s job is a difficult and often dangerous one. Yet, there is something profoundly wrong in the police training system, and the American legal system as a whole when month after month, young unarmed black men (some of them mere children, some of them grandparents, some of them women) are shot in the back, put in unlawful chokeholds, or otherwise brutalized by police officers; when one in four black men are in prison; when month after month, there are reports of African-American men being acquitted of violent crimes due to new DNA evidence – often after already serving decades in prison for crimes they did not commit; when young black people are called thugs for looting over their fury at these injustices, and authorities see fit to call out the military, but those who loot and burn because their local sports team lost (or won) a game seem to require no such extreme response. And there is something wrong in our nation when we can find millions to spend on prisons, but not to improve our schools or revitalize our impoverished neighborhoods where people have more liquor stores than grocery stores.

“Do not stand idly by on the blood of your neighbor.” We may not understand the rage and anguish and sense of hopelessness of those living in West Baltimore – or Ferguson, Missouri, or Camden, New Jersey – but we must try.

B’tikvah/Yours in Hope,
Rabbi Susan

Published in Rabbi Susan's Blog on May 1, 2015