Last night’s ruling: reflecting on Ferguson and justice

November 25, 2014

By Daniel Kaplan
Community Organizer

Isaiah 58

8. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever goes on it knows no peace.

ח. דֶּרֶךְ שָׁלוֹם לֹא יָדָעוּ וְאֵין מִשְׁפָּט בְּמַעְגְּלֹתָם נְתִיבוֹתֵיהֶם עִקְּשׁוּ לָהֶם כֹּל דֹּרֵךְ בָּהּ לֹא יָדַע שָׁלוֹם:

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Photograph by Sarah Jane Rhee. loveandstrugglephotos.com

Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri chose not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black unarmed teenager. As a Jewish organization dedicated to ending systemic racism in Chicago, we believe it’s important for the Jewish community to pause and reflect on how we must respond.

Jewish tradition teaches that  humankind is created in the image of God, B’tselem Elohim. From this we learn, quite simply, that all lives matter. As Jews living in the United States, we have an obligation to not only affirm that all lives matter, but specifically black lives matter. Last night, I joined hundreds of black community members and allies in anticipation of the grand jury decision. Standing outside a  police station on 35th and Michigan, I heard youth activists recall the names of countless black men and women whose lives had been prematurely extinguished.  In addition to Michael Brown we remembered Roshad McIntosh, who was shot by Chicago police in August under similar circumstances. We remembered Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy shot by police in Cleveland last weekend. We remembered Marissa Alexander, a victim of domestic violence who will serve three years in prison and have a lifetime felon status because she fired a warning shot away from her attacker. We remembered Trayvon Martin.  All black, and all killed, incarcerated, or otherwise failed by predominantly white juries and white law enforcement.

While all lives matter, we must specifically uphold black lives because of our society’s systemic devaluation of their worth. Speakers from last night’s demonstration drew connections between last night’s decision to the United States’ history of commodifying black life. From slavery to sharecropping to redlining and exploitative housing contracts to the prison industrial complex, these recent episodes of police brutality fit into a centuries-old legacy.  A group called “We Charge Genocide” recently testified to the United Nations Committee Against Torture about police brutality in Chicago and the United States. Last night’s grand jury decision was not a tragic episode, but rather another product of a deeply ingrained system that exploits and dehumanizes black bodies and minds.

We must always remember that to pursue justice means to shine a light on structural racism and inequality however and whenever we can. When JCUA sang for a trauma center in September, we did so because we understand that systemic racism in Chicago has deprived entire swaths of the city a fundamental medical service. When we support immigrants seeking sanctuary, we do so because we recognize that economic and political forces pressure people to immigrate whether or not our immigration policy allows them to. When we stand with workers seeking redress for wage theft, we do so because we know our economic policies have created staggering wealth inequality and privileged the profits of corporate executives over the rights of the working class. Everything we do at JCUA is connected to a systemic injustice, and without calling out these systems we cannot pursue justice.

Today, let us take a moment to pause from our regular programs and campaigns to reflect on this travesty. As we take a moment to truly feel for Michael Brown, his family, and so many other extinguished black lives, let us recommit to our work with an intention to end to perpetuation of systemic injustices across our city.




46 Years Later: Connecting #mlk’s Last Speech to #abetterillinois

April 4, 2014

46 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In his last years, King focused his work on addressing the intersections between economic inequality, poverty and race. King was in Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Strike, a critical first campaign in his larger Poor People’s Campaign.

In his last speech, King said, “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

46 years after Dr. King spoke those words, economic and racial inequality are more strongly connected than ever.  As we see in this article, income inequality is growing in our city. Chicago’s staggering economically polarization is concentrated in communities of color, and nearly entirely in neighborhoods where CPS closed more that fifty Chicago Public Schools last year.

40 Years of Chicago’s Rising Inequality, in One GIF

We cannot stop our work to combat poverty.  JCUA is committed to addressing economic inequality in our city and state.  That is why we are members of the A Better Illinois coalition.  By working with A Better Illinois on changing Illinois’ flat rate income tax system, we are not only advocating for a more fair income tax.  We are also advocating for a solution to Illinois’ massive deficit and the resulting cuts in vital programs and services for the economically marginalized.  Together, we can stop the growing stratification in Chicago and draw a new map with more just colors.


 Want to get more involved with JCUA and A Better Illinois?  Click here.


Following the Legacy of Mayor Washington, 26 Years Later

December 2, 2013

Harold Washington served as Chicago’s first African-American Mayor from 1983 until his death in 1987. Christopher Huff, JCUA’s community organizing intern, attended the ceremony commemorating 26 years to Mayor Washington’s death, on November 25. In this post, Christopher reflects on the future of Washington’s legacy. 

by Christopher Huff
Community Organizing Intern, JCUA

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington's grave.

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington’s grave.

Fairness is much more than just a favored position. Fairness is a necessary condition for the existence of a civilized society. Fairness is a guard against injustice and a key component to any act derived from the intent to be free from bias or prejudice.

We must never forget this important role that fairness plays in the development of our society. Fairness is one of the most important tools we have to ensure not only the promotion of social justice, but the advancement of economic and political opportunities for those in need.

No leader could have understood these concepts more than former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. His belief in the advancement of fairness as a crucial value to promote during his campaign and tenure as mayor is arguably the most salient issue addressed during his inaugural speech in the fall of 1983. In this speech he said:

“I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair…

One of the ideas that held us all together said that neighborhood involvement has to take the place of the ancient, decrepit and creaking machine. City government for once in our lifetime must be made equitable and fair.”

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington's cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington’s cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Now, we fast forward 30 years following his inauguration and exactly 26 years past his shocking death and there I stood in front of his gravesite as a community organizer in training at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and student at the University of Chicago – School of Social Service Administration inspired by his words and dedicated to a call for a more fair Chicago for all the city’s residents.

Chicago has a come a long way since the passing of the Harold Washington. It has grown to become home to more than 2.7 million people and the second largest labor force in the United States. It remains the premier location for global conventions, tourists, and immigrants of all types of colors, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds.

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington's memorial ceremony. He said: "We will not let let the flame burn out... without Harold there is no Barack."

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington’s memorial ceremony. He said: “We will not let let the flame burn out… without Harold there is no Barack.”

However, if we are going to truly address the issues of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism that has plagued our city for generations once and for all, we must increase our willingness to work collaboratively across culture and religion – regardless of any fear or caution we might possess.

For nearly 50 years, JCUA has worked collaboratively across various cultures and religions to help address issues of race, class, and anti-Semitism.  Building on the prophetic Jewish values of “Tzedek” (justice) and “Tikkun Olam,” (repairing the world), JCUA inspires me to continue working toward the creation of a more fair and just Chicago.

And now, more than ever, I hope that you also stay committed to the principles of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam as you look to continue or renew your commitment to Jewish life.


Can You Step Up Against Gun Violence? Lakeview Meeting On 11/19

November 13, 2013

no to gunsblue boxGun violence is continuously harming Chicago communities, and disproportionately harming people of color and women. Unfortunately, in June of 2013, the Illinois General Assembly passed an overly permissive law that allows citizens to carry concealed weapons with few limitations.

It’s time for the Jewish community to step up in the fight against gun violence. And we need your help.

JCUA is joining a coalition of diverse communities in a campaign to begin taking back gun legislation in Illinois.

This campaign’s goal: to ban guns in houses of worship. 

It won’t be easy, which is why we need YOUR help. JCUA is holding a first meeting for people who may be interested in stepping up in this campaign and being leaders.

Together we can build a Jewish response to gun violence, and be strong partners for our allies throughout Chicago. But it won’t happen without people like you, who are willing to step up. I hope to see you on November 19.

Contact: 
Asaf Bar-Tura
JCUA Director of Operations
asaf@jcua.org

P.S. You’re welcome to bring your dinner to the meeting (Whole Foods is next door, and Milt’s BBQ is a couple of blocks away).


Stopping Gun Violence: When a Catholic Senator Quotes Heschel

October 22, 2013

“Mothers of Courage, fathers of time… sisters of mercy, brothers of love… Seekers of truth and keepers of faith, makers of peace and wisdom of ages…we are the spirit of God … we are one” – from “We Are” (by Sweet Honey in the Rock).

ap-gun-violence-prayer-vigil-4_3_r536_c534On Friday, October 18, the grassroots group “Fierce Women of Faith” (of which JCUA is a member) hosted an interfaith anti-violence training symposium. It began  with lifting up prayers and voices in song, and recognizing that Chicago is in a state of emergency.

Speakers proclaimed that faith and action are both needed, and asked attendees to commit themselves to working together for real change. This was beautifully illustrated when state Senator Jacqueline Collins quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to illuminate how her Catholic faith compels her to speak up in the face of injustice.

The symposium’s keynote speaker Dr. Carol Adams, the CEO of the DuSable Museum, declared that she was tired of meeting, talking and pontificating. Addressing Chicago’s violence epidemic was about more than words. Dr. Adams honored us with her poem, “We need some more neighbor in this hood!!” about the importance of human connection and of being active participants in our lives.

Dr. Adams emphasized the need to engage faith communities in politics, because politics affects justice. Policies do not exist in a vacuum and we must be aware of all of the ramifications – intentional or not. One example is the Zero Tolerance policy: zero tolerance for violence sounds great – at first. Yet we have to dig deeper, not remaining content with thinking we did the right thing by stopping all those ‘problem’ children. What happens to all the youth that now have fewer opportunities and options because they have been labeled a problem so early in life? If that policy had been in place when she was in school, she would likely not be standing before us today.

We have almost all heard that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but Dr. Adams asks if we understand what that really takes? We cannot raise only the child and ignore the village, nor can we ignore the child as we focus on building the village. People and systems must be worked on and with simultaneously. It will be and is difficult, but it necessary, and as people of faith, it is imperative to recognize that all one needs is already there – us.

Dr. Adams suggests that it’s time we all get busy.

Get more involved in JCUA’s work to stop gun violence – contact Asaf Bar-Tura: asaf@jcua.org


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