‘We Will Not Sit Idly By’: Jewish Organizations React to Demonstrations Over George Floyd’s Death

June 1, 2020
Protestors marching at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles on Saturday May 30. Photo courtesy of Kim Silverstein

Multiple Jewish organizations have released statements reacting to the demonstrations occurring all over the country and in the Los Angeles area after the death of 46-year-old George Floyd.

Floyd, an African American, was declared dead at a hospital on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles tweeted on May 30, “ADL is heartbroken at the ongoing horror of racism in our country and among elements of police forces. We acknowledge the right to protest peacefully. But destruction is not the answer; community empowerment is.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles (AJCLA) said in a May 30 Facebook post, “As some protesters in Los Angeles today have resorted to violence, vandalism, and destruction of property, we join with Mayor Eric Garcetti in appealing for calm across our city. However justifiable their outrage over the murder of George Floyd earlier this week, there is no justification for lawlessness in LA or anywhere.”

In a subsequent May 31 post, AJCLA condemned President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, stating, “We need our leaders to summon the best in us. President Trump, dividing a country and pouring fuel on the fire are not the ways to go. We need to unite and, yes, honestly confront our shortcomings.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted on May 30 that nobody “has the right to use this tragedy to commit acts of violence, looting and theft. This desecrates the memory of #GeorgeFloyd. Looting and burning private property is not a legitimate form of protest,” adding, “Icons of civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King + other leaders [such] as Caesar Chavez + Americans who gave their lives to the fight for equality, must be crying tonight. We support our elected officials + police in bringing back law + order to the streets of American cities.”

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein similarly denounced the violence and looting. “Praying for peace and safety for all our community,” he tweeted on May 30. “Injustice and racism is worth protesting. Violence and looting is wrong and immoral. Those who are looting and burning are terrorizing all of us.”

He added in a subsequent tweet that while Shavuot was peaceful, those who observed the holiday in Los Angeles could see the helicopters swirling above the city and knew “all was not OK with Los Angeles.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles issued a statement after Shabbat and Shavuot on May 30 stating, “Our tradition teaches us that all humans are created in the image of G-d. We mourn the senseless death of George Floyd. Our tradition calls upon all of us to work alongside our neighbors to create a more just world. We stand with the black community and all communities of color.”

StandWithUs issued a May 31 statement condemning the killing of Floyd.

“The video showing a (now former) police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while three others stood by and let it happen is disturbing beyond words,” the statement read. “It illustrates the urgent need for accountability and justice in this and other similar cases.”

The pro-Israel education group added, “It is clear that the killing of George Floyd, following the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, has once again ripped open deep wounds in America, particularly for the black community. We hope this will become a catalyst for people of all backgrounds to come together and work towards a more just society that will heal those wounds.”

Union for Reform Judaism Senior Vice President Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner also said in a May 30 statement, “The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that people of color — and particularly black men — have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.”

Pesner went on to honor other unarmed black men who have died at the hands of law enforcement, including Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Michael Brown.

“The list feels endless, and so, too, is our despair,” Pesner said. “But as we recite the mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.”

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