Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle statement on Charleena Lyles shooting
Justice, Religion

Seattle Federation delays police award after Charleena Lyle shooting

[UPDATE: The federation has canceled its annual meeting, originally scheduled for tonight. Federation President and CEO Nancy Greer emailed participants to say, “Our decision is not in any way a response to protesters’ demands but one borne of safety, timing, and prudence.”]
Thanks to all of you who signed our petition asking Seattle’s Jewish Federation to rescind their Tikkun Olam award to the Seattle Police Chief and Department, and instead dedicate time at their meeting tonight honoring the memory of Charleena Lyles and all those killed or affected by systemic violence — which I originally failed to specify was collaboratively drafted by several people around the community, with super notable leadership by Leah Knopf and others! Your comments in the petition, and your replies to this email thread are powerful testaments to the idea that so many of us share: that tikkun olam must attend to the realities and needs experienced by everyone in and proximate to Jewish community, especially — it’s bizarre to even have to type it — those most impacted by institutional violence and oppression, which, in our country, is usually Black and Native people and other communities of color.
I wanted to share the most recent developments I’m aware of: On Tuesday, Crosscut released this article, describing the situation with commentary from some righteous and amazing community members. Check it out. Then, yesterday morning, the Jewish Federation released this statement, articulating their decision to hold off on giving SPD the award:

We stand by our original reasons to bestow the award on Chief O’Toole and the SPD. We also believe, in light of recent events, it is not appropriate to present an award at this time. We and Chief O’Toole concurred that this was the best decision. With so many unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of Ms. Lyles’ death, we all believe it is not respectful to the Black community, to Jews of color, nor to all those committed to racial justice to go forward with the award right now.

In the afternoon, some of the folks involved in organizing the original petition put out this statement in response to the Federation’s decision, appreciating the turn of events but asserting the fact that more work is necessary and that the award should be rescinded forever. Please take a look:

While we appreciate that the Federation has taken this step, our work here is far from over. In addition to rescinding the award, we originally asked the Federation to use the Tikkun Olam award time at Thursday’s meeting to invite in the community to say kaddish for Charleena Lyles, conduct a healing service, and engage the broader discussion of police force that is so urgently needed in our city. These requests have not been met.

Again, props to so many of you for your swift and authentic organizing around this. But again, it’s not over; in fact, this could be a powerful continuation and beginning. Let’s carry this conversation forward within and across the Jewish community in lovingly accountable, thought provoking, and action-initiating ways.
Here are some:

  1. Donate money to efforts to undo racism in our society, led by Black people and other People of color. Some ideas: Ending the Prison Industrial Complex – EPIC Seattle, Black Prisoners’ Caucus, The Village of Hope, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, as well as the fund to support Charleena Lyles’ family.
  2. Consider joining tonight’s Radical Mincha for Black Lives (Jewish afternoon service) at 6:00 pm at Hillel. Even though the Federation decided to table the award to the Seattle Police Department, organizers are moving forward with this gathering as a multiracial Jewish community to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter, to honor all community members working for social justice, and to call upon the entire Jewish community to stand up against police violence.
  3. Learn about the current plan to build a new jail facility for children in the Central District, and about how doing so would simply and devastatingly perpetuate violence towards communities of color; another manifestation of institutionalized racism. Talk about it with your networks.

I’m often kind of cynical about overused Jewish platitudes, but this one is a sobering reminder to many of us in the times we’re living through, especially us Ashkenazi, white Jews: Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” This is not separate from ‘us’ in any way, and so now is the time to really show up.
Check out a growing network of Jews Undoing Institutionalized Racism that’s working to do so in active, Jewishly-grounding ways.

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