As two men with different backgrounds, one black and Christian and the other white and Jewish, we are united in our grief over the death of George Floyd, who was killed because of the color of his skin. We have come together before. When there was a rash of violent incidents against Jews last year, we publicly spoke out against antisemitism. Today, we come together to speak out against the systems of engrained oppression that ended Floyd’s life: racism and white supremacy.
Floyd’s death lays bare the fact that despite hundreds of years of struggle for liberation, white supremacy still grips this land. Since African Americans were first brought to America in chains in 1619, racism — like antisemitism and other “isms” — has been enduring. It did not go away with the ratification of the 13th Amendment any more than antisemitism went away when Moses freed the Hebrew slaves. Racism has outlasted the end of Jim Crow, integration of the military and schools, the fair housing and civil rights acts, and the election of a black president.
Like all people who believe in the rule of law, we demand justice for Floyd. We welcome the elevation of the charge against the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck to second-degree murder and that the other officers who did nothing while Floyd begged for his life are finally being charged with aiding and abetting murder.
As much as we want justice for Floyd, we want justice for all people who have been targeted by racism. We know that what happened to Floyd is far from isolated. His plea to police to let him breathe is a horrible echo of the plea made by Eric Garner six years ago. Floyd’s death is only one among a series of recent deaths, including the killing of Ahmaud Arbery while jogging in Georgia and EMT Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her apartment in Kentucky. This past week we saw how terrible it is when race is weaponized. A white woman walking her dog in New York called police after Christian Cooper, a black man, asked her to leash her dog. Harkening back to the racist and false accusations leveled at Emmitt Till, the woman told Cooper, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”
No one should stand idly by when they see the double-standard-policing that has taken place in this country. Floyd was killed by a police officer for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill, while dozens of white, heavily armed protestors entered the Michigan State Capitol to threaten and intimidate legislators with little repercussion from law enforcement.
We abhor violence and the provocateurs that have hijacked peaceful daytime protests and turned them into violent nightmares. But we find the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. instructive when he recognized that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Like King, we cannot condemn the riots without also condemning “the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.”
We are guided by the words of Genesis, which instruct us that we are all created in God’s image. As a result, we call for a true reckoning on racism in our country. To do so, we must not only acknowledge, but also dismantle, our implicit and explicit biases. And those of us who have been the beneficiaries of white privilege must use that privilege to breakdown systemic racism.
The two of us recognize that hate breeds hate. So, we call on you to join us in speaking out and actively engaging in the fight against racism, but not just racism. Use your voice and efforts to also condemn and fight antisemitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ and other forms of hate. We know that to have allies, you need to be an ally.
Bishop Jerry Demmer is the president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. Scott Levin is the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Mountain States Region
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