Jewish lives matter. As do Christian and Muslim and all other lives. And of course that should go without saying, which is what makes the Black Lives Matter furor so frustrating. As relationships curdle — with people who should be allies withdrawing into separate camps — the problems worsen.
Aggravating it all are the sweeping generalizations that make each side throw up shields of defensiveness. Statements slamming whites for racism smack as much of racism as the behavior that has triggered protests across the country.
As Jews, we understand that dynamic all too well, still, even in this country, where we are doing better than ever before. The reports of anti-Semitism in Europe and the antagonism toward Israel ensure our ongoing wariness.
Yes, all lives matter — but that doesn’t suffice. It does need emphasizing that black lives matter just as much as all others. As events last week underlined yet again, for the umpteenth time in this past year, the lives of black people — men especially, but women, too — appear to count for less among some of those entrusted with their protection.
And the outrage is based only on the cases caught on camera, or — like Trayvon Martin’s death — the rare incident that makes headlines without such footage. What of all the ones that go unwitnessed, and with no publicized reports? The police say they don’t gather statistics on their shooting victims, a bizarre phenomenon in this age of record-keeping, and understandably, they don’t willingly call attention to egregious behavior that has escaped media attention.
Crime statistics might explain some of that, as do economic disparities. There is more violence and more transgression among those enduring financial hardship. But even affluent black people in affluent areas encounter more police suspicion and mistreatment.
In Jewish lore, as in other religious traditions, those with more are obligated to help those who are more vulnerable. That isn’t encoded in the law. Justice, supposedly blind, is merely required to be equal. We expect those paid to enforce the law to follow that form, serving the citizenry without fear or favor, honoring the rights we hold so dear.
The current crisis is a shrieking siren of warning, that those ideals are being violated — and with respect to this one group more than others. We need to demand corrective measures, or all our lives will matter less.