By: Rabbi Michael Cohen, Head of School
"Nuanced" - Done with extreme care to appreciate fine-point distinctions that you have to be very detail-oriented to notice.
The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer has spurned an international outcry. What began as protests pushing for positive change, splintered into looting and even resulting in an autonomous zone “CHAZ,” right here in Capitol Hill. What we first dubbed, “the new normal” has shifted into a new state of potential confusion with many questions. As Head of School, I want to address this issue head-on.
On Wednesday, June 17, Derech Emunah Staff and Students had the opportunity to have a conversation with Mr. John Mitchell, a personal friend and professional acquaintance of mine whom I met when I lived in Detroit.
Mr. Mitchell has been involved with race relations for the last 50 years, and served in the U.S. Military Police Corps, and then as a Detroit Police Officer for 33 years. Most recently, his work entails training Police departments across the country in racial tolerance. Specifically, he teaches police what it is they can do to avoid situations like the one that ended in the death of George Floyd.
I was able to set up an hour-long discussion via Zoom with Mr. Mitchell, where our students and staff asked questions and shared ideas with Mr. Mitchell. Participants discussed complex topics like Black Lives Matter, defunding the Police, the autonomous zone, racism, and excessive force within law enforcement.
He gave us insight from the perspective of someone in law enforcement.and as a black Police officer from Detroit. Mr. Mitchell explained some of the more nuanced and historical implications regarding law enforcement and race relations in America.
When we asked Mr. Mitchell when he thought the current unrest would end, he said, “It would take people listening to each other, not just hearing the noise but really listening.” He added, “The last words that George Floyd said were, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and there was no one listening.”
Mr. Mitchell also commented on the well-known slogan, ‘“Black Lives Matter.” He said, “I happen to believe that Life Matters. It matters what we do with it. The slogan "Black Lives Matter" is a scream for help, a scream to be heard.” "The opportunity in all of this unrest is for us to hear and see something that you have not seen or heard before. Then the question becomes, what do you do with what you hear and see."
This year, we’ve seen more change in the world than most of us have ever seen. While for many that could mean turmoil and upheaval, for us at Derech Emunah, it is a powerful reminder that as Hashem’s children we must make sure to listen to what people are saying and to be there for people in need.