Monday, September 17, 2018

Take a Knee on Yom Kippur

Police Accountability - The Rod and the Whip: Engagement; Jewish Literacy; and Jewish Identity are at the heart of every ELI Talk.

As we approach Yom Kippur - when all Jews 'take a knee' - Abq Jew presents one ELI Talk that he found especially meaningful during these Days of Awe.

First, an introduction. This ELI Talk deals with the shooting of Laquan McDonald. To refresh our memories -
The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place on October 20, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. McDonald was fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke from approximately ten feet away.  
McDonald had been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and was holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. He did not obey police commands to drop the knife. After the shooting a police union representative told reporters that Van Dyke had acted in self-defense as McDonald lunged at him and his partner.  
Initial police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified. However, when a police dash-cam video of the shooting was released thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald walking away from the police when he was shot. The knife he was carrying was found to be closed.  
That same day Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and initially held without bail at the Cook County Jail. He was released on bail on November 30. The city reached a settlement with McDonald's family.
Mitch Smith of The New York Times today reported:
Officer Van Dyke’s long-awaited trial is underway, with opening arguments possible on Monday, and Chicagoans are watching intently. Here are some of the reasons this case is so significant:
  • Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times.
  • The video was kept secret for 13 months.
  • No Chicago police officer has been convicted of murder in nearly 50 years.
  • Only one black person was chosen for the jury.
  • Chicagoans are worried about the aftermath of an acquittal.
And most significantly:
  • This case has changed Chicago.
Mr Smith explains:
Laquan’s death overturned this city’s leadership, causing or contributing to the downfalls of a Chicago police superintendent, the prosecutor who waited more than a year to bring charges and, now, the mayor. 
Mr. Emanuel, once one of the country’s most powerful big-city mayors, announced a day before jury selection in the Van Dyke case that he would not seek a third term as mayor. His staff has said that the decision had nothing to do with the trial; still, Laquan’s death left its mark on the mayor’s nearly eight years in office. 
The case against Officer Van Dyke has led to policy changes here. All patrol officers have been equipped with Tasers and body cameras, rules for when officers can shoot have been tightened and, on Thursday, city officials agreed to a court-enforced consent decree that would require an overhaul of the Police Department. 
Trust in the Chicago police remains elusive, though, and new police shootings continue to lead to protests. Activists say that even if Officer Van Dyke is convicted of murder, which could lead to a life sentence in prison, systemic problems remain unsolved. 
“I don’t think the buck stops with one officer going to jail,” said William Calloway, who has helped organize protests outside the courthouse, “not when you have hundreds of police shootings through the years.”

And then there is Albuquerque.

And our own Albuquerque Police Department. To refresh our memories -
In November 2012, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into APD’s policies and practices to determine whether APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (“Section 14141”). 
As part of its investigation, the Department of Justice consulted with police practices experts and conducted a comprehensive assessment of officers’ use of force and APD policies and operations. The investigation included tours of APD facilities and area commands; interviews with Albuquerque officials, APD command staff, supervisors, and police officers; a review of numerous documents; and meetings with the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, residents, community groups, and other stakeholders. 
At the conclusion of its investigation, the DoJ issued a scathing report that uncovered a "culture of acceptance of the use of excessive force", frequently not justified by the circumstances, causing significant harm or injury by APD officers to people who posed no threat. The DOJ recommended a nearly complete overhaul of the department's use-of-force policies. Among several systematic problems at APD were an aggressive culture that undervalued civilian safety and discounted the importance of crisis intervention. 
As result of the report the city and the DOJ negotiated a court-enforceable agreement, which included among its 106 pages provisions to dismantle the Repeat Offender Project and rein in the SWAT team, which had operated outside the command structure for years. 
An April 2016 Fault Lines investigation found that change was only scratching the surface and that the corrupt and violent culture of the police department continued unabated.

In the months since Mayor Tim Keller took office, things have begun to change - Abq Jew believes, for the better.

Any institutional change is slow; nevertheless, see the Progress and Status Summary of the USDOJ Settlement Agreement Entered Into by the United States of America and the City of Albuquerque Regarding the Albuquerque Police Department; Eighth Report; February 1, 2018 – July 31, 2018. Which states:
In December 2017, APD and the City of Albuquerque had major changes in administration and began directing efforts to address the CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement]. 
Throughout the reporting period, APD continued to make major changes within the Police Department to include the creation of an Implementation Unit (renamed the Compliance Division) to focus on the CASA and the long-term sustainability for Department-wide improvement, as well as reorganization and movement throughout Command Staff positions.

But APD's road trip to repentance is a long one.

Now let's get back to ELI Talks.
At the heart of every ELI talk is Jewish religious engagement (E), Jewish literacy (L), and Jewish identity (I) with Israel and peoplehood at the core. 
Our work is driven by the values of ahavat yisrael (love of fellow Jews and the land of Israel), chidush (innovation within tradition), and machloket l’shem shamayim (argument for the sake of Heaven). 
Our online presence provides a platform for ideas and sources to be shared, and a home for wide-ranging voices to converse skillfully and compassionately with one another.
ELI talks are not meant to be relics on a digital shelf, rather, they are conversation catalysts intended to be turned, questioned, and contradicted, in prayer spaces and offices, around boardroom tables, and in the intimacy of our own homes. 
Our speakers span the depth and breadth of the Jewish experience, but they aren’t individual and independent voices: they are all connected to each other and to our collective tradition.
If we want a vibrant Jewish future, we need inspired Jewish ideas.
Aryeh Bernstein is a fifth-generation Chicago South Sider with extensive experience in Torah education and organizing progressive Jewish communities. 
His primary employment is with Avodah, as Director of its Justice Fellowship and Yo'etz Ruach of its Service Corps in Chicago. He is also Educational Consultant for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, where he organizes on police accountability, Founding Director of the Hyde Park Teen Beit Midrash, Staff Educator for Farm Forward's Jewish Initiative for Animals, and Coordinator and Teacher of Mishkan Chicago's Social Justice Beit Midrash. 
He was previously Mechon Hadar's Director of Recruitment and Alumni Affairs and an Editor-Translator for Koren Publishers' English edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud. He has taught at Drisha, the TAKUM social justice beit midrash, and campuses, communities, and organizations around Israel and the U.S., especially Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where he co-founded and co-directed the Beit Midrash Program and Northwoods Kollel. Aryeh is a Senior Editor of
In this ELI Talk, Aryeh Bernstein explores what the Torah has to say about accountability for law enforcement, how the existing police contract is antithetical to it, and why it's so vital according to our tradition that we get this right.

Albuquerque! Get this right!

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