Last Tuesday, the judge in the Derek Chauvin trial read aloud the decisions of the jury. Chauvin was found guilty on three charges for the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd. Millions of people across North America celebrated the verdict and breathed a sigh of relief. In this case of blatant police violence, in this case of a White police officer using excessive and deadly force against a Black man, the system worked and justice triumphed.
But we know that George Floyd’s murder was not unique and this victory is only one step forward. Even while the trial was taking place, more Black men died at the hands of police. Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by police just a few miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where Derek Chauvin was being prosecuted. This was not the only time a Black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” This is not the first time that police violence was witnessed by a crowd pleading for the officer to stop. Nor was this case singular in the entire, horrific murder being captured on video. This verdict was rare. It is significant. It is a sign of culture change and wide-spread awakening to systemic racism and the demands of accountability.
Turn back in time about three thousand years and the Torah asserts the revolutionary imperative to which we are called, moving forward, and to which we have always been called. “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice, you shall pursue!” Tirdof – with this verb, Deuteronomy asserts that the work of justice requires active pursuit. This verb holds the clarity of its aim and actively, energetically, seeks out its robust fulfillment. Many commentators note the repetition of the word “tzedek” and understand that the duplication conveys something essential about the very nature of justice. The pursuit of justice doesn’t end when one injustice is rectified. Pursue justice in one instance, and in the next, and the next.
The repetition of tzedek tells us, too, that the pursuit of justice should never only address the wrong committed in a singular moment. Rather, our pursuit is of a dual nature. We must pursue justice that responds to and rectifies both the moment of injustice, as well as correcting the system of injustice that created the present wrong. I recently attended a Racial Justice Beit Midrash convened by the Wexner Foundation. There were four teachers, each were *Jews of the Global Majority (*a term that shifts attention from skin colour and racialization to a global perspective of normativity and world-wide community strength). Rachel Faulkner, one of the teachers, shared yet another interpretation and application of this mitzvah. She translated it as, “You shall pursue justice justly.”
The Chauvin verdict is a victory while Torah underscores the important work ahead – the verdict marks a significant step in the long project of dismantling racism and building a society characterized by profound societal accountability, equity, justice, and repair.
The Toronto Jewish organization, No Silence on Race is asking Jewish communities to sign the open letter they have written, committing to work on 9 pillars designed to address racial inequity in the Jewish community and strengthen our collective ability to end racism. The DJC has signed on to the letter and we have begun a process of learning and action. The DJC’s Social Justice Committee, in partnership with the East End Multifaith Commons have organized several impactful educational events and activism addressing issues of racism. Please join us on Thursday May 13th at 7PM for the panel and discussion Defunding the Police: Rethinking Community Safety.
May this verdict instill in us the hopefulness, commitment, and energy we need for the long project and pursuit of tzedek in its fullest expression.