The most recent rash of police violence against black men in this country has touched off a wave of violence against police. There is no excuse for violence in any case, but I have to say that I am particularly outraged by the police. Dealing with difficult situations is their job. I am not saying that it is an easy job, but that is what they signed up for when joining the police force and taking an oath to serve and protect. Mind you, if it was not for cell phones we would not even know about these situations. It is only recently that every citizen has a device to keep an eye on the police who were supposed to be keeping an eye on us. Its makes you think about how deep the history of violence has been beyond the people killed by police this year.
And for us as a society not admitting that there are profound and deep issues around race in this country makes fixing these problems intractable. Confronting or avoiding the history of racism in this country seems to be played out in the tired volley between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”. You do not need to be against police to want to see them do their jobs and ensure that black men are not targeted.
I was reminded of these dueling slogans when reading Korach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
Now Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moshe, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’ ( Numbers 16:1-3)
What does it mean when Korach says,”all the congregation are holy”? On this Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma to say that, “All of them heard [the] words [of the commandments] at Sinai from the mouth of the Almighty.” On the surface Korach is arguing that everyone should share power because they are all equal. While his words are noble, his actions are not. In reality he shows up with his posse to demand power for himself.
Like Korach, when people say “All Lives Matter” their language of equality is but a thin vale. While Korach was trying to get power for himself, people who say “All Lives Matter” are trying to preserve a racist status quo and keep power for themselves. If that was not the case the “All Lives Matter Movement” would be leading the protests against the police. Were not Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also people? Did their lives not matter?
So lets just say “Black Lives Matter”. It does not mean that their lives are the only things that matter, but it gives voice to the fact that we need to change our racist system. I do believe that words matter too, but in the end we will be judged on our actions. I am afraid that if we do not deal with these issues the violence will swallow us whole.