Throughout the past four months, between officiating bar mitzvahs and weddings and leading her congregation, Rabbi Susan Talve, of St. Louis’ Central Reform Congregation, has been traveling north to Ferguson, Mo., to join the protests.
“There was moral outrage,” Talve said of the nights immediately following last week’s announcement that charges would not be brought against police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in August. “I’m not calling it violence.”
Talve has been one of a group of St. Louis-area clergy who have made it their mission to be present at all of the protests. Dressed in matching orange vests, they march alongside community members day and night in an effort to show Ferguson’s citizens that they are not alone. They have even undergone training in de-escalation techniques.
“That’s our place. Our place out there is to lift up the voice of the young people, to keep them safe and to de-escalate when we need to. And we’ve been able to do that,” she said.
On Nov. 25, a day after the grand jury’s decision, a Washington University student protesting in Ferguson asked Talve why she was there.
“We’re here to make sure that everybody who messes with you knows that they are messing with us,” she told the young man. “We want the world to know, and we want St. Louis law enforcement to know, that when they profile you, that they have to be accountable to us.”
Talve is especially proud of the response of some in the Jewish community. In October, Talve said, the community hosted an event aimed at focusing on the moral message brought by the events in Ferguson. More than 20 rabbis attended the weekend rally from all over the country.
“We pray for peace. We pray that the voices of the youth will not be silenced by police violence and media ignorance. We pray for the day when people of color do not have to fear the police,” read a statement from T’ruah, a rabbinic organization that focuses on human rights and helped organize the rally. “We must use our resources to amplify those voices and to share their words with our own communities.”
“In the Jewish community, this is an issue for us because we know what it is to be profiled, even in America,” said Talve. “We know what it is to be profiled throughout the world and the reason we were involved in the civil rights movement 50 years ago is the same reason we need to be involved today.”
For its part, the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council has been working to collect books to send to the library in Ferguson for area children, many of whom have been out of school since Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Nov. 17. The council also worked in conjunction with another local synagogue and church to staff and supply a safe place for people to get food, charge their phones and pray, and it has started a #fergusonifnotuswho hashtag on Twitter to collect messages of support, said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, JCRC executive director.
In Baltimore, there were at least four protests on Tuesday, Nov. 25,
the day following the grand jury announcement. That morning, Morgan State University students marched around campus. At the University of Baltimore School of Law, students lay down in chalk outlines and chanted “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” which has become a mantra at Ferguson protests.
Two protests were held that evening downtown, the first of which took place at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor and was organized by Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the People’s Power Assembly.
“We’ve got to send a message that what happened in Ferguson, Mo., was completely unacceptable, and it was a true miscarriage of justice,” said Elder C.D. Witherspoon of City Revival Ministries. “We hope to send the message that Jim Crow Jr. is indeed very much alive and well and that we have to double our efforts, lock arms and come together like never before to ensure that we fight the good fight of the faith.”
Others hoped the protests would bring to light problems in the criminal justice system.
“People of color are overwhelmingly affected by police brutality and law enforcement policies that treat them like the enemy, and I think that’s an unfair and terrible thing to have to live with,” said Baltimore resident Michael Hanes. “The mobilization around [Michael Brown’s] murder is bringing a lot of attention to it, and so I hope more people will look at the broader problem; this isn’t unique. It’s not about a bad cop; it’s about a police system that does this regularly, that regularly abuses people.”
“These are our people that are out on the streets and are not feeling safe,” said Talve, noting that the Jewish community includes many black and other minority members. “But even if it wasn’t our people, we need to be there for all of the people. This is an American value, a Jewish value, and I’m very proud of my city, I’m very proud of St. Louis, that the people here are giving voice to something people have called for a long time, and we’re taking the civil rights movement to a new level.”