After Ferguson, we need to make a difference

No one outside that St. Louis County grand jury room knows what evidence was heard inside, as jurors met on 25 separate days and considered whether to indict the white police officer who killed an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

That does not minimize the outrage many felt upon learning Nov. 24 that officer Darren Wilson would not be charged. Michael Brown is dead, shot in broad daylight, and no one will be held accountable.

Immediately after the announcement, protests erupted around the country, some of them violent. In the Bay Area, downtown Oakland saw looting, while protesters shut down part of Interstate 580. The rage is understandable, especially with this news coming 16 months after a Florida jury exonerated George Zimmerman for gunning down another unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin.

No matter where one stands on the grand jury’s decision, there is a lingering feeling that justice has not been served. But taking to the streets solves little. In the words of Michael Brown’s parents: “Don’t just make noise; make a difference.”

Start with judicial reform. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). Grand juries declined to return an indictment in only 11 of those cases. As the expression goes, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.

Yet other data show it is rare to secure an indictment against a police officer. There may be good reasons for this, but too many Michael Browns have died, their killers walking with impunity. This must change. Police officers are not above the law, and if the law inordinately protects them from accountability, then the law must change.

The Jewish community has long been a voice against injustice. Jewish solidarity with the African American community is well documented. Organizations such as American Jewish World Service, Bend the Arc, Keshet and our own Jewish Community Relations Council have done a superb job building alliances, as have individual synagogues and rabbis.

More must be done. The Jewish community must redouble its efforts to speak up and reach out, renewing ties and creating new ones.

And as we so often do, we look to our sages, ancient and modern, for guidance.

In the words of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”