The numbers are shocking. According to a new study by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University, at least 1100 people were killed by police in 2014, the highest number in decades. Only one officer was convicted of any crime for every 1,000 killed, the study found. So far in 2015 at least 897 people have been killed by police. A disproportionate number are Black or Brown.
The life-long trauma is even worse: "My son, LaReko Williams was tasered to Death," says his mother Meko Williams of his son's killing by Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina police in 2011. "An expert witness in the civil trial, Dr. Shahad, said that he never in his life seen a heart that look like that. The electricity fried his heart..." "They came in and automatically blew my granddaughter's brains out in front of me," said Mertilla Jones, grandmother of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was murdered by Detroit cops May 16, 2010. "Like I said, I seen the light of life leave out of Aiyana's eyes. I never seen anything like this in my life."
A deep moral and political challenge is being posed for all of us: What do we do?
One step is to keep this issue before the public consciousness. I believe that every city ought to create a citizens' police review commission with some members appointed by the clergy of the African American community and the other members elected in city-wide elections. That review committee should be empowered to investigate every single instance in which excessive force by police has been alleged, and the power to fire, suspend or bring to trial any police officer whom they deem to have violated reasonable standards of conduct or imposed bodily injury or death. At the same time, every school district in the country should require a class at each grade level from kindergarten through college on the history and actuality of racism in this country so that citizens sitting on grand juries or ordinary juries have the intellectual foundation needed to understand the way that racism often shapes the behavior of our police forces or at least the section of our police forces most likely to use violence against minorities or other citizens.
To make these steps possible, it will take ordinary citizens placing these measures on local ballots or demanding that their elected officials implement them. To get an energized population to do this, we have an obligation to keep this issue in the public eye. RiseUpOctober.org. is an effort to do this. This coalition is organizing speak outs around the US and "adopting" families of police murder victims, and raising money to help them travel to New York City to take part in #RiseUpOctober, three days of protest starting Oct 22 with a reading of the names of people killed by police and culminating in a hopefully massive march on October 24th.
The goal of #RiseUpOctober is to bring together people from all walks of life to manifest our moral determination in the public square: POLICE TERROR MUST STOP NOW. Alongside the families of 100 people who have been murdered by police, thousands together will call out and challenge people throughout society: Will you stand up against police violence?
#RiseUpOctober is a broad based response to a moral and political emergency. Initiated by Cornel West and Carl Dix, it's call has been signed by hundreds, including initially 74 members of families who have lost loved ones to police violence, 31 leaders of the faith community, notable voices including Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner, Immortal Technique, Shepard Fairey, and Peter Coyote. Its Advisory Board is made up of Gina Belafonte, Carl Dix, Eve Ensler, Jamal Joseph, Arturo O'Farrill, Rev. Stephen Phelps, Cornel West.
Faith Task Force
I am part of the Faith Task Force, headed up by Rev. Jerome McCorry, a civil rights leader from Dayton, OH, who says of the epidemic of police brutality and mass incarceration, "For those of us in the Christian faith this represents a "What would Jesus do moment." As was the case in the civil rights movement of the 1960's, the faith community must again speak out with clarity of vision to combat the New Jim Crow of Mass Incarceration." Those of us in the Jewish world know come from a history of being assaulted and killed by instruments of the state, whether that was a Christian state in the middle ages, or contemporary right-wing nationalist and fascistic states , or self-described communist states of Eastern Europe. We have an obligation to stand against police violence, even when many of us do not expect to personally be subject to it. (Though don't be so sure).
"One of the things that God says according to the traditions is that he hates brutality against the oppressed," says Faith Task Force member Rev. Stephen Phelps of the Presbytery of New York City, a Christian minister and author whose writings have frequently appeared in Tikkun magazine, the voice of spiritual progressives and secular humanists www.tikkun.org. "What's it mean if god hates that? Does that mean that we forgive and sit back and wait? I don't think so. Does it mean 'vengeance is mine,' sayeth the Lord, therefore we sit back and wait? Does it mean doom is coming? Sit back and wait for doom? I don't think so. No, I think there is only one thing that we really need to get into about what God hates. God hates it when people are shaken and refuse to wake up."
Nkosi Anderson articulates our call this way: "Do you feel that it's OK, for this country in particular, to have the highest rates of mass incarceration in the entire world? I come at this as a prophetic, as a revolutionary Christian....It's saying that, hey we have a call to confront evils across the board...the conditions that we are facing today create a clear moral line."
100 Families for #RiseUpOctober
Those who have lost family members and loved-ones have been key in propelling the movement for October 24. They have borne the excruciating pain of losing loved ones at the hands of the state and then being denied justice, but instead watching in agony as the police go unpunished, while their dead loved ones are demonized.
Here's one such story: September 14, 2013, Charlotte, North Carolina. Jonathan Ferrell--a 24-year-old Black man--was injured in a one-vehicle accident. When he knocked on doors seeking help in an upscale white community, police were called. When they came onto the scene, they shot Jonathan 10 times, killing him!
His mother Georgia Ferrell has endorsed the CALL for Rise Up October, and she issued this statement:
"We have to keep this struggle alive. I'm working hard here fighting for justice. We have to put those officers behind bars. This is an attack on our children! We have to keep praying and we have to keep fighting to stop them. If we stop... if we rest for a moment... it starts all over again. We have to be in the forefront. My parents marched for equal rights, to be treated right. Why in 2015 is this happening?! Rise Up October I want to let the nation know what's going on. We need a new future. People in authority don't stand up and speak for the people. No one in authority has stood up and said innocent people are being killed. Jonathan was seeking help! The President says nothing. When Freddie Gray is killed by police and young people stand up the President says the kids are thugs. I'm a Christian and a parent. If Jonathan was doing anything wrong I'd say so. He needs help and the police fire their guns. This must be stopped. I'm flying to NYC for Rise Up October. I've put the word out for funds. And I am using my own money. I am very excited about Rise Up October. We need to do this!"
A centerpiece of #RiseUpOctober will be 100+ families of those who have been murdered by police coming to New York. "Never before have this many families of police murder gathered in one place. Never before has the world had to confront so many of the faces of those whose lives have been torn apart by police terror and murder. Never before have their courage and cries for justice been fused together with each other on this scale, and with many thousands more from all walks of life demanding: POLICE TERROR MUST STOP?"
Communities of Faith...Inspired by These Families, Working to Bring them to New York
Meeting these family members or hearing their stories, has been profoundly troubling, and profoundly inspiring. I think Nkosi Anderson spoke for many of us when he said: "I've been first and foremost humbled by their deep strength and their deep love. I don't know what I would do if I lost someone near and dear to me. I'd probably retreat, I'd probably fall into destructive behavior. I don't know what I would do. And so I'm just amazed whenever I see these families not just lament their own loss but use it as an opportunity to speak out against injustices that are continuing to effect others--saying "Hey you know what? I'm not going to wallow in my pain but I'm going take a stand in honor of my fallen family member to say that this must stop." And so for me, I'm just humbled to see that type of courage and love of people for them to do that."
So a key component of the Faith Task Force's work is sharing these stories with many, many others, urging them to support these families, and concretely organizing and raising funds so they can come to New York and inspiring many thousands and drawing strength from each other and all of us.
As Carl Dix put it, "You might say that these religious leaders are courageously stepping forward to connect with the Mamie Till-Mobleys of our day. As many of you know, with the families of police murder victims playing an especially courageous and clarion role. They are the Mamie Till Mobleys of our day - just as she refused to have Emmett Till's body touched up and insisted the whole world see what was done to her baby, these families endure excruciating pain and open it to the world to demand people wake up and win justice."
In all this, the $100,000 crowd funding campaign taking place right now is crucial to raising the funds needed to bring families from across the country to New York for #RiseUpOctober. So I encourage everyone to donate now at: igg.me/at/riseupoctober
As in all situations of this sort, sometimes the rhetoric gets a bit over-heated and that can become a turn off for me and others. But I believe that we should stand with the victims of this police violence and endure some overheated rhetoric, because in the final analysis this is a just cause and our society would be far better off if police felt a serious contraint on their use of violence.
For more information: http://riseupoctober.nationbuilder.com/
WHAT: Mass Rally and March - Stop Police Terror & Murder! Which Side Are You On?
WHEN: Saturday, October 24
11:00 Gather at Washington Square Park for OPENING RALLY
4:00 CLOSING RALLY Columbus Circle, along Central Park South
5:30 March from Columbus Circle, route TBA
POLICE TERROR MUST STOP! WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/events/000000000000000/
Call to Action - http://riseupoctober.nationbuilder.com/
Who We Are - http://riseupoctober.nationbuilder.com/who_we_are
Initial Endorsers - http://riseupoctober.nationbuilder.com/endorsers
100 Families Project - http://riseupoctober.nationbuilder.com/100_families_project
"When people become inspired en masse, which is not too often, they can leave their stupidity behind and truly move mountains and advance the glory of mankind. October 24th can well be one of those rare occasions when this occurs."
- Ed Asner on #RiseUpOctober/Which Side Are You On?
Rabbi Michael Lerner is co-chair with Vandana Shiva of the interfaith and secular-humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, editor of Tikkun magazine, and author of 11 books including with Cornel West: Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion and Culture in America; Jewish Renwal:A Path to Healing and Transformation; The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right; and Embracing Israel/Palestine: A strategy for Middle East peace. He can be reached at RabbiLerner.tikkun