When our sage Hillel writes, “If not now, when?” he underscores the immediacy of addressing pressing issues in a timely way. For our society today, it is imperative that we resolve the manifest problem of violent police attitudes and behavior toward young black men. The disproportionate incidence of police mistreatment of black youth, leading to violence and death, is an offense to our civilized society, and bespeaks a certain prejudice that still inhabits the hearts and minds of some law enforcement personnel.
Our tradition instructs that each person has been made in God’s image, and we must, accordingly, treat each of God’s creatures with equality, dignity and worth. The disproportionate occurrence of violent death of unarmed black youth at the hands of police, from Staten Island to Oakland, and even in our own state of Wisconsin, clearly demonstrates that we have great difficulty actualizing this value in our nation, and that we must not permit such tactics to continue. We must, as a nation, cure the illnesses of mistrust and bigotry that plague us.
The protest demonstrations that have been occurring regularly address the apathy of our nation that prohibits us from resolving this problem. They emphasize the urgent need to recognize our shortcomings and solve them. And they echo the sentiment of Hillel, who directs us not to tarry when a need is so immediate and vital.
We pray that, in our day, we can work to repair the human divisions that still estrange one group of people from another. May God give us the strength to do so!