By Jimmy Pasch and Eliana Horn, Truthout
In the weeks before the horrific murder of Charleena Lyles, a Black woman and mother of four killed by members of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) on June 18, we learned that the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle planned to present the SPD its “Tikkun Olam” award. Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, is a central concept of Jewish social justice, and we shared outrage with many progressive Jews in Seattle that a police department — especially one currently under court supervision for excessive force and racially biased policing — would receive such an award.
Following Charleena Lyle’s murder, this organizing took on new urgency — the grassroots Seattle Jewish community mobilized, and more than 700 declared in this petition: “It is clear that we, as a multiracial Jewish community, need to stand in this moment with our fellow community members, not with the police forces whose activity systematically undermines the wellbeing of communities of color across our region.”
The Federation recognized that presenting this award just days after the police murder of Charleena Lyles would reflect poorly. They decided to table the award to a later date, and then postponed the meeting itself upon realizing that activists still planned to protest by holding a memorial service. They did not, however, withdraw the award, indicating that they were more concerned about optics than about the pervasive, deadly racism of the police department.
Many of us were appalled, and some were likely surprised, by the Federation’s insistence on giving an award to the SPD, despite its damning record and Lyles’ murder. But, it makes a lot more sense when we look at the deep relationships that establishment Jewish institutions have with police departments across the country, including here in Seattle.