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After the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision, What’s Next?

After the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision, What’s Next?

Monday night, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that a grand jury had decided there was not enough probable cause to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was fatally shot on August 9, 2014. In response to the decision, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Steve Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, issued the following the statement:

Though the grand jury decision closes a chapter in this case, the underlying issues of damaged relationships between law enforcement and communities of color as well as growing economic and social inequality remain in Ferguson. But this tragedy is not just about Ferguson; it represents an endemic pattern across our nation. If America is to live up to its value of equal justice for all such disparities must be addressed. We therefore call on every city and community to assess whether victims of law enforcement shootings are disproportionately people of color. If so, we call on such communities to engage officials and civil society representatives to develop a public “action plan” to ameliorate such disparities.

Read the full statement here.

Last night, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism hosted a conference call on the situation in Ferguson with Reform leader Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO, and Hilary O. Shelton of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP. Rabbi Talve has been on the front lines of peaceful, faith-based activism for healing race and community relations and criminal justice reform in Ferguson since Michael Brown’s death in August, and was recently honored in the "Forward 50" for her work on this front. Hilary O. Shelton, a respected policy expert on civil rights and racial and economic justice, provided an analysis of the legislative action that could be taken to address many of these endemic problems, including the Death in Custody Reporting Act. You can listen to the recording here:

Michael Brown’s death and the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson have raised a number of questions about community police relations, racial profiling, and the effects of socioeconomic inequality.

Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute wrote a piece in the Atlantic back in August that helps explain why many white and black Americans see this incident so differently. For example, a Pew Research Center poll found that overall the country is divided over whether Brown’s shooting “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed” (44 percent) or whether “the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves” (40 percent). Yet black Americans favor the former statement by a four-to-one margin (80 percent vs. 18 percent) and at more than twice the level of whites (37 percent); among whites, nearly half (47 percent) believe the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

This Slate article discusses Michael Brown’s mother’s reaction to the grand jury decision, which was captured on camera and quickly spread across the internet. The writer, Aisha Harris, explains that the video shows something that has not been seen from other families that have suffered recent injustices. “Trayvon Martin’s family, for example, publically displayed its grief, but never showed this sort of utter anguish and anger at a system that treats the lives of young black men as disposable. Brown’s family has advocated for nonviolent protests as well, to be sure, but they also haven’t felt the need to conceal their personal sadness and anger, either.”

It is clear that there is still work to be done. As our statement makes clear, the Reform Jewish community will continue to build relationships and engage in legislative advocacy on issues of economic and racial inequality, including reform of our criminal justice system, ending racial profiling and protecting civil rights.

Claire Shimberg is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Claire graduated in 2014 from the University of Pennsylvania, and is originally from Tampa, FL, where she is a member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek.

Claire Shimberg
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