Today was Freddie Gray’s funeral, a sad gathering for his family and community, a sad event for all of us to notice, a sad occasion that should not have had to take place. In memory and reaction, the streets of Baltimore City fill with protests demanding justice and respect for all citizens. Let’s not allow any unfortunate, misguided violence following the organized protests to distract from the issue.
The tragic death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, like the deaths of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York, NY and so many others whose names are not as widely known, remind us that we can’t enforce our laws if we don’t also enforce our values.
If we value due process and fairness, if we value people’s dignity and rights, if we value safety and personal security, if we value human life then we have to treat one another, regardless of circumstance, according to these values we cherish. We can’t enforce our laws if we don’t also enforce our values.
During Freddie Gray’s funeral on the wall of the New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore a screen projected this phrase: “All Lives Matter.” Yes they do. This we believe above all else. This we must declare in our society and for our justice system. All lives matter.
Those who police the streets of our communities believe this, too. Those who protect all of us from the bad acts of some believe this, too. Each person’s life matters always and everywhere. Confronting our fears and others’ bad acts is when we have to act most responsibly, better remembering what we believe. All lives matter.
How is it that we live in a world where people still don’t understand this first and most fundamental ethical principle of humanity? Why is human history in every age filled with episodes of persecution, intolerance, and disrespect among people?
It continues in our day. Tyrants murder their citizens. Despots deny human rights and personal freedoms. Terrorists plot and carry out their attacks. Religious extremists justify their venom in the name of a god we don’t recognize. There may not be much we can do to overcome it all over the world but certainly we can work in our communities to ethically and effectively police ourselves and our neighbors.
Freedom and pluralism require distinctiveness. The Talmudic rabbis observe that if a person strikes many coins from one mold they all resemble one another. Yet, when God fashions every person in the human mold each person is unique.
Judaism teaches us that we sustain human freedom and dignity in our society, and throughout the world, when we recognize what is the unique contribution of each person and every group, when we celebrate each other’s uniqueness as being what we actually have in common.
Those who protest are absolutely right. Their lives matter. The lives of their children matter. Black lives matter. Police lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Asian lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Christian lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Human lives matter. All lives matter.