Jewish Activists Arrested Protesting For Justice During Passover Week

It was a "seder in the streets."
Members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice organized a rally in New York City.
Members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice organized a rally in New York City.

Six Jewish activists were arrested in New York City on Thursday during a Passover protest meant to call attention to policing practices that they believe target immigrants and communities of color.

The six activists ― all associated with the progressive Jewish group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice ― were charged with disorderly conduct after sitting in a crosswalk in downtown Manhattan and refusing to leave, an NYPD detective confirmed to The Huffington Post. They were released Thursday evening. 

Six protestors from the JFREJ group (seated) were arrested Thursday after participating in a rally.
Six protestors from the JFREJ group (seated) were arrested Thursday after participating in a rally.

The protestors were part of a Passover “Seder in the Streets” rally attended by hundreds of Jewish New Yorkers, along with Muslim, South Asian, and other community leaders. The activists called on New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio to end the city’s “broken windows” approach towards policing and “give New Yorkers a real Sanctuary City,” according to a press release.

JFREJ member Yehudah Webster, who was arrested on Thursday, said in a statement, “Passover is not only a time to remember our journey as Jews from captivity to freedom, but also a time be reminded of our obligation to make sure we all get free, we all find sanctuary.” 

After a press conference on the steps of City Hall, the protestors participated in a seder, a ritual meal that retells the story of the ancient Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom. 

As part of the holiday, Jewish families have a tradition of hiding a piece of flat bread, or matzah, for children to find. The JFREJ seder put a twist on that custom ― children in the audience were asked to find the “Mayor’s moral courage” as represented by a performer wearing a matzah-encrusted crown.  

New York City’s Mayor de Blasio has promised to fight President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking federal funds for sanctuary cities, a term used to identify cities that don’t always comply with federal immigration detention demands. But de Blasio been criticized for supporting “broken windows” approach to local policing, which some advocates believe put undocumented immigrants at risk.

Women's March activist Linda Sarsour participates in JFREJ's rally.
Women's March activist Linda Sarsour participates in JFREJ's rally.

The idea behind “broken windows” policing is that cracking down on minor offenses ― such as jumping the turnstile to get on the subway or selling fruit on the street without a license ― will help prevent more serious crimes. But rights groups claim this policy unfairly targets immigrants and can lead to deportations, since information about the arrested individuals is shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Enforcement Control.

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that while broken windows policing has its problems, it is still the “right approach.” 

In response to the JFREJ’s protest, the mayor’s spokesman Austin Finan told The Huffington Post that the city has been scaling back from making arrests for low-level offenses. But the mayor still believes the NYPD’s current policing strategies shouldn’t be undermined. 

“The mayor has been clear - the remedy to a broken immigration policy is not to undermine an effective policing strategy that has helped make New York City the safest big city in the nation,” Finan wrote in an email. “The NYPD engages in quality of life policing, the overwhelming majority of which is driven by community complaints called in via 311 and 911 or observed by officers.”

Along with demanding an end to that policy, the group also called for the passage of the Right To Know Act, which would create new guidelines for how police interact with people they approach on the street.

JFREJ member Dania Rajendra, one of the protestors arrested on Thursday, said that her family’s history inspired her activism for undocumented immigrants today.

“My dad was an immigrant ... New York is the place where my past and immediate ancestors ceased to wander, and made a home ― an option that should be available to all all New Yorkers,” Rajendra said in a statement. “Right now too many New Yorkers are neither free nor safe in their own neighborhoods, workplaces, and places of worship and therefore my own Jewish liberation is incomplete.”

UPDATE: This post has been updated with comments from the mayor's spokesman.



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