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December 6, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayeshev

In this coming week’s Haftorah portion, Amos claims that Isarelite judges “turn aside the way of the humble”. (Amos 2:7).;  What does that mean? Ibn Ezra says (according to Soncino) “They turn the humble from the right path, until all shame is lost.”  This seems eerily prophetic after the events of the past week or two.

In two highly publicized cases, police have gotten away with killing civilians; in both cases (the Michael Brown case and the Eric Garner case) , a grand jury refused to indict them even though the victims were unarmed.*  These cases inspired widespread public outrage- I suspect because they seem to be part of a pattern of police misconduct.  (For a much more bizarre and seemingly indefensible example see this story).  The Brown decision led to some low-level rioting; no one died,** but there was some burned cars, buildings, etc.  It seems to me that this is a case of government misconduct (or at least the perception of same) turning people aside from the right path; if people don’t believe the representatives of the law are behaving respectably, why should they have any respect for the law?

And because the police officers were white and the suspects in both these cases and many other cases of police abuse of deadly force were black, race was of course an issue.  As a result,   the reaction of non-left-wing Jews to these verdicts (based on an extremely unscientific sample of Facebook and Twitter posts) was often pretty disappointing.  The dominant view seemed to be: black people kill each other (and members of other ethnic groups as well)  all the time, so who cares if police kill a few? I don’t think we apply this standard when other people are killed.  For example, about 14,000 Americans a year are murdered- but does that mean the murder of 3000 by al-Qaeda was no big deal?   Ironically, supporters of Israel complain all the time about Israel being held to different standards than the rest of the world- but when blacks are shot in situations where it seems hard to believe a white person would be shot, crickets.

*To be fair, there were seemingly plausible countervailing arguments in at least one of the cases.  In the Michael Brown case, the police officer claimed self-defense, and eyewitness testimony was divided.  On the other hand, a grand jury is supposed to indict someone whenever there is probable cause- which sounds to me like “when in doubt, have a trial.”

**I note that in the 1980s and 1990s, acquittals in police brutality cases sometimes led to riots where dozens of people died.  So Americans got off pretty easy this time.


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