CCAR Resolution on Racial Justice
June 17, 2015
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, age 18, was shot to death by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. While the specifics of that incident remain in dispute, it sparked a vigorous national debate about police use of lethal force, particularly in connection with African American suspects. Only two months earlier – on July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York – Eric Garner, an African American man, was killed when a police officer placed him in a choke hold. In neither case was the police officer in question indicted. In the months that have followed, additional deadly incidents, many involving police officers and African American suspects, have rocked many of our nation’s cities. In the ten months that have followed, awareness of police use of deadly force has grown, with renewed focus on tragic incidents, many of which preceded the death of Michael Brown.
CCAR members and the communities we serve have strongly confronted racial injustice in our communities. We have acknowledged and appreciated that law enforcement is engaged in critical, sacrificial, and enormously complex work every day. Nonviolent protest and thoughtful debate, confronting this critical life-and-death issue, has been joined by Americans of all political persuasions, racial and ethnic groups, and religious affiliations. Reform rabbis, following the lead of African American partners, have been among clergy of diverse faiths and Americans of every walk of life in the struggle for racial justice – grieving tragic losses of life, bravely striving to keep the peace, supporting law enforcement in our communities, and boldly advocating for racial justice. Violent riots have often accompanied and sometimes obscured this holy work. While such violence is sometimes rooted in deep and longstanding community frustrations, no matter the cause, violence is neither helpful nor acceptable, but is harmful to the community.
Racial Justice has been a priority of the Central Conference American Rabbis since the CCAR first resolved to combat discrimination in education in 1938.[i] In our 1999 Resolution on Race and the Criminal Justice System, we decried police brutality, racial profiling, sentencing disparity, and disproportionate minority confinement in the juvenile justice system. In that same resolution, we called for efforts to reduce “the use of excessive force by police,” “legislation that prohibits discriminatory profiling;” and end to sentencing disparity, particularly with respect to non-violent drug offenses; among other reforms. In 2005, the CCAR adopted a Resolution on The Continuing Struggle for Voting Rights. A problem of powerlessness that has only worsened since 2005, with the adoption of so-called Voter I.D. Laws, the shortening of absentee voting periods in many states, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 invalidation of critical sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Union for Reform Judaism articulated Reform principles strongly, in its December, 2014 Resolution on the Crisis of Racial and Structural Inequality in the United States. Articulating values we affirm, the URJ Resolution included these powerful words: “In Deuteronomy (16:20) we are commanded, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue.’ The sages explained that the word tzedek is repeated not only for emphasis but to teach us that in our pursuit of justice, our means must be as just as our ends. We are also guided by the words of Leviticus (19:15), ‘You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; you shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.’”
The CCAR has long recognized that racism and economic injustice perpetuate disparities in American life, and are injustices in themselves, contributing to an unjust criminal justice system. On topics ranging from economic justice to voting rights, from disparities in educational opportunity to formal and informal residential segregation, we have lifted up the prophetic voice in our resolutions, calling for tikkun olam, for a repair of our too-often broken American society.[ii]
Now, therefore, Be It Resolved that the Central Conference of American Rabbis aligns itself with the larger struggle for racial justice, by:
COMBATING INCOME INEQUALITY
RESTORING AND PRESERVING VOTING RIGHTS
RESTORING EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY
ELIMINATING MASS INCARCERATION
ENDING RACIAL PROFILING
REFORMING POLICE PRACTICES
ENCOURAGING RABBINIC PARTICIPATION
APPRECIATING WHAT IS GOOD
[i] Pre-1973 CCAR resolutions on discrimination, a term that seems to have been applied in this context exclusively to racial discrimination, are found in digest form only at ccarnet.org/rabbis-speak/resolutions/all/discrimination-1889-1972/. This digest indicates that, in addition to education, the CCAR spoke out against discrimination in employment, housing, industry, medicine, the Armed Forces, and labor unions in the 1940s and 1950s.
[ii] See for example Resolution on Economic Justice, 1987; Resolution on the Continuing Struggle for Voting Rights, 2005; Resolution on Making Public Education a National Priority, 1998; Resolution on Budget and Social Welfare, 1982; Resolution on Federal Budget Priorities, 1999.