I have been racially profiled by the police. I still want them protecting our synagogues
Like millions of Jews, the hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel affected me deeply. Even here in Canada, my concern was with the hostages, but I also dreaded the conversation of security would soon emerge.
After every antisemitic attack on a synagogue, we have a communal conversation about increased security and armed guards at synagogues, and the effect it has upon Black Jews and other Jews of Color. As a Black Jew, I knew this argument was coming. But I never thought there would be people who would center this argument during a time of ongoing crisis, as four Jews wondered whether they would live or die for simply being Jewish.
Furious anger filled my heart as I read these posts by rabbis and communal leaders throughout social media. It was not the time to hold this conversation as Jews possibly faced death. It was despicable to drag Black Jews into this debate like a weapon against anyone who disagreed.
I am not naive or idealistic, and my encounters with the police have never been pleasant. As an 8-year-old, I remember the police racially profiling me alongside my sister and her friends. They assumed we had drugs as we sat on a bench during a city festival, and turned on flashlights to see if they could find anything incriminating.
The recurring theme of extra scrutiny from the police has always been a part of my life story. However, as a double minority and as hatred against Blacks and Jews in North America continues to rise, I will never support the call for “no police and no guards” at synagogues — especially coming from those who have never had these negative interactions.
When violence against Jews is at an all-time high, from massacres to hostage-taking, I would rather live than make a political statement. I would rather loudly tell a guard at the synagogue door that I am Jewish and Jews come in all colors than be a picture of a dead Jew on a television screen.
I distrust the police, but I still can see reality. When antisemites target Jews at synagogues, they will kill all of us, Black and white-passing alike. This threat of violence is the reality for our Jewish sisters and brothers in Israel and Europe every day.
We do need to have a conversation with synagogues and community members to ensure Black Jews receive decency and dignity every time they approach a synagogue or step foot inside, and to ensure that security measures will protect us and not continue to oppress us. Nevertheless, I want to live, and I want to be able to go to a synagogue without looking around the building to find the quickest exit or a discreet location to hide if a shooter enters this holy place.
There are, of course, other Black Jews who disagree with me, and who believe that police or armed guards will make the synagogue more dangerous. They cite the infiltration of police by white supremacists, and it is a valid criticism. But I will not gamble on determining whether or not an officer guarding a synagogue is a white supremacist when there is an active shooter of any political orientation threatening or killing Jews.
Some have also hijacked this discussion for nefarious purposes to shield their anti-police rhetoric. I say to them; I am not your Jewish Negro. I do not require you to pontificate like I am a child. I certainly do not need you to tell me, in a paternalistic tone, that I should hear all sides of the argument over police and armed guards. I’ve lived the reality. Save it for one of your white friends.
Many non-Black people only cite other Black people when Black people like me directly contradict their “worldview.” But Black Jews are not a monolith, and we are not tools to push your agenda when violence against Jews turns into situations like this.
I, too, wish Jews could go to synagogue without fearing death. I wish that there weren’t those who would rise to oppress us in every generation. However, this is the reality for our people. Until non-Jews help us take the initiative and present themselves as true allies to this terrible virus of Jew-hatred, we will have to come to terms with a synagogue fortified with protection. Tolerance of terrorism against Jews has created this brutal reality.
Pierre Trudeau, the former prime minister of Canada, once said during a crisis of terrorism, “there’s a lot of bleeding hearts around who don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed. It’s more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don’t like the looks of a soldier’s helmet.”
To contact the author, email [email protected].