Statement in the Wake of the Derek Chauvin Verdict
Along with so many American citizens and institutions, The Jewish Theological Seminary, blessed as our community is with a broad diversity of students, faculty, and staff, received news of the verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin with complex emotions. One could not fail to see, in the faces and in the words of George Floyd’s bereaved family, how important justice is even to those who know it will not bring their loved one back to life. They know today that his voice has been heard, and that he indeed has changed the world. We express our gratitude that George Floyd’s family was spared yet another cruel blow. Barukh menahem aveilim—Blessed is the One who brings comfort to mourners.
We also note that the family could be spared this additional blow because of those who, with noble responsibility, responded to the imperative of justice: (1) fellow citizens—strangers—who, with their voices and cameras heeded the biblical exhortation, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow human being”; (2) police officers who stood for the integrity and values of their badges and oaths by testifying to the unacceptability of the conduct that killed George Floyd; and (3) prosecutors who worked tirelessly within the law to produce a just conclusion. These people, of all ages, are inspirations.
And yet, at the same time, we know that the very need for this trial evidences a failure of justice on a much larger, and racially biased, scale. Day in and day out, Black Americans are the victims of racial profiling and aggressive conduct that put them at grave risk and cast a pall of fear over even their everyday activities. The fact that a fortuitously recorded and explicit video made a conviction all but inevitable in this case must not lead us to forget the hundreds of similar cases where no such evidence is at hand. This places an onus of moral duty on every American to act in every way possible to reverse the bitter fruits of racism. It was Abraham Joshua Heschel of JTS who wisely and famously said, in a conference on religion and race, that “an honest estimation of the moral state of our society will disclose: Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” We commit ourselves to continuing and expanding our work toward achieving racial justice and equity within our institution and the larger Jewish community, and throughout the country. We call on all Americans to join us in this urgent cause.