But what if we could not fully trust those police? What if we had seen video of an officer shooting a Jewish teenager 16 times while he lay face down in the street? What if we knew that a family in our community had called the police for help in defusing a mental health crisis– and their 55 year old neighbor was shot and killed by the police as she opened the door for the officers? And what if those killings, and many others, were systematically covered up, or when exposed resulted in no meaningful investigation or accountability? How might we respond then? Would we be as confident in calling 911 to ask for help?
Accountability is not a threat to the police, it is not a cudgel to beat public servants. As a physician, I am accountable for my decisions, as are many of us with professional or fiduciary responsibility towards others. Accountability is an essential structure in a democratic society. It establishes norms that govern both public and private services, and which are adhered to by the vast majority of professionals and public officials. It requires that we take all possible steps to prevent violations of those norms — and Accountability also ensures that corrective actions are taken when those norms are violated.
As I read about our executive branch’s tacit acceptance of police misconduct and anti-Semitic hate crimes, I recognize that these two injustices are inextricably connected. The vulnerability I feel in this moment as an Ashkenazi Jew bears resemblance to the vulnerability felt by people of color across the United States when they encounter the police. In recognizing the similarities in our predicaments, I also acknowledge critical ways in which my experience as a White American Jew fundamentally differs from the Black experience. Anti-Semitism in the United States is not rooted in centuries of slavery, structural racism, and violence. However, this moment has given me clarity about my obligation to address police misconduct while combating anti-Semitism. Injustice anywhere, as Dr. King taught, is a threat to justice everywhere.
One of my favorite teachings comes from the Australian aboriginal activist Lila Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Organizing for police accountability in a time of heightened anti-Semitism has given me newfound appreciation for this quote. As Muslims and Christians help Jews rebuild our sacred spaces, I know that we too must stand in solidarity with others facing racism. Even though I have never been directly affected by police violence, I have been harmed by it — all of us have. As we approach Passover, my liberation from Eretz Mitzrayim requires my work with others in a common struggle for justice in our community. I look forward to the day when we can all celebrate our shared achievement in building a safer, more just city.
A shorter version of this previously appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.