Because I am a preacher and an advocate for civil rights, my life’s work has centered on the notion of equality and justice for all. Whether it’s fighting on behalf of victims of police brutality, pushing for immigration reform, or simply highlighting inequity, I firmly believe that we only progress forward when we unite across racial, ethnic, and religious lines in our efforts to right serious wrongs.
Humanity calls upon all of us to put aside our own personal identities and speak up when we witness deplorable incidents. Such a moment is once again before us, and this time the victims appear to be members of the Jewish community. I stand with them in strongly condemning the outrageous behavior referred to as “knockout games”—in which an attacker or attackers attempt to knock out an unsuspecting person with a single sucker punch. It’s not a joke, it’s not a game, and nobody is laughing.
In recent weeks, authorities have reported a rise in “knockout” incidents in areas around the country. Innocent folks have been struck while simply walking down the street, including a 78-year-old Jewish woman in Brooklyn last month. There simply aren’t enough adjectives to describe how despicable and reprehensible this behavior is. Anyone who would punch an elderly woman deserves no mercy in a court of law. While these cases are all horrific and inexcusable, there appears to be another troubling element in many of the attacks, especially in my home city of New York: Like the elderly woman, many of the reported victims have been Jewish. Police maintain that they cannot definitively conclude a pattern of biased behavior yet, but we—those who work diligently against racism and discrimination—can and must speak out now.
Whenever a group of people who have been historically singled out and attacked feel threatened and seem to be the predominant target of hatred once again, we cannot simply brush it off. Just this week, a 26-year-old Hasidic man was punched in the face in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood in another apparent “knockout game” attack. According to news outlets, victims of more than 10 of these incidents in fact have been Jewish. That is beyond troubling. And that is enough of a pattern for progressives from all communities to take a stand, push back against this madness, and remain united in our resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice. Nobody should ever live in a society where they fear walking in their own neighborhood or where they are hesitant to proudly practice their faith.
I am meeting with other civil rights leaders to determine how we can work to combat this apparent crisis. It’s vital that no matter what our own personal backgrounds, we must come together for those who are suffering from these attacks. While the authorities continue their investigations and draw their own conclusions, we must create a consolidated force against the outrageous pattern we have already seen. If the victims were primarily African American, the black community would not be silent. If the victims were primarily Latino, that community would not be silent. If the victims were primarily Caucasian Christians, they would not be silent. But it’s time we move away from our own comfort zones and raise a voice when a miscarriage of justice befalls someone outside of our own community. That is the only way true change ever transpires.
I urge police to bring all responsible individuals in each and every one of these tragic cases to justice. Some have speculated that the perpetrators are African American—and that this could somehow be a symptom of deeply-held anti-Semitism on the part of the black community. In my opinion, nothing could be farther from the truth. If it turns out the perpetrators are African American, the cause will be the immorality of these individuals, not anything systemic in our community. Others have suggested that the violence is the result of economic inequalities felt especially acutely by young African Americans and Caribbean Americans in our city, but as a leader of this community, let me clear: It is no more acceptable for a young black man to assault a person because of the clothes they wear or the group they belong to than it would be for white people to physically assault black people in Brooklyn or anywhere else because of the color of their skin.
While these investigations proceed, I simultaneously urge folks to also unite in creating better schools, advanced educational opportunities, after-school programs, mentoring services, and more to help keep children off of the street. There is no excuse ever to bestow violence upon others, period. But that should not stop us from creating mechanisms that don’t fail our children. There must be a way to disrupt this outrageous behavior before it begins.
It’s very easy for people to ignore things or close their eyes to a harsh reality when it doesn’t affect them personally. But when one group is the apparent primary target of attacks, each and every one of us must intervene somehow. Remaining silent can never be an option; that is the only way we as a society will continue advancing.
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