Near the beginning of Exodus, Moses resists the call from the burning bush and tries to ask his way out. Who am I to confront Pharaoh? Who is sending me? How will others believe me? I do not have the words, send someone else. That this episode is literature and not history enhances the poignancy and relevance of the questions, at all times and right now. The questions are eternally present.
I am blessed and cursed with the opportunity and obligation to share my thoughts on important issues. And sometimes I do not have the words. In moments like this, it can be hard to breathe – both physically from oppression and tear gas, and emotionally from grief and fear and anger and seeming powerlessness. I do not have easy answers, and I fear writing tritely what should be profound.
Let it be said clearly, and it is astounding that it needs to be said:
- Police violence/force against innocent people is wrong, and our justice system assumes one is innocent until proven guilty. A restrained suspect should never be tortured or killed by police as was George Floyd or shot without warrant like so many others.
- Racism is wrong, both the personal racism of internal hatred and the structural racism that causes some of us to suffer more. That our justice system results in such great racial disparity in policing, prosecuting and prison is especially wrong.
- Police/state violence against peaceful protesters is wrong. It is particularly egregious and an abuse of power for a political photo op.
- Freedom of the press is essential to a functioning democracy, including its freedom to report on the public exercise of state power via police and National Guard. Arresting or attacking reporters is wrong.
- Using protests in favor of racial justice as cover for anarchists and criminals to vandalize and steal is wrong. This exploits racial injustice, since all sincere protesters are being blamed. Imagine a white shoplifter leaving a store at the same time as a paying black customer, knowing whom security is more likely to stop when the alarm goes off.
Those of us with the privileges of suburban life, relative affluence and accepted whiteness (even as Jews) may find these challenges both upsetting and paralyzing. But there is no one else to send; no one else can answer who we are, where are we, whether we can truly love our neighbors as ourselves.
How will we be believed? We will only be believed and discover who we truly are by both words and deeds. Protecting our civil freedoms, improving our civil liberties, supporting righteous protesters while rejecting criminal vandals, demanding improvements in police accountability – all of these will require our persistent efforts.
Every nation has laws, but laws do not guarantee justice. Slavery, the Nuremberg Laws, Jim Crow segregation, voter disenfranchisement – all were both legal and unjust. The Insurrection Act of 1807 and later additions legally allow the President of the United States to deploy armed forces domestically; it was used to enforce equal protection during Reconstruction and desegregation, but we greatly fear its use today to suppress our rights.
Therefore, our words and deeds are needed to tip the scale towards justice. We must use our voices and votes and values to be who we say we are. Speak, write, protest, donate, organize, advocate; anything other than asking our way out of this moment.
Who am I to confront Pharaoh? You are you. Who is sending me? You are sending you because everyone is needed. The bush burns and is being consumed. We cannot wait for rain from the heavens any longer.