The wise child calls to make our state’s streets safe

By Rabbi Susan Talve and Jennifer Bernstein

The story of Passover teaches us of the transformative power that we yield when we work together toward the common good.

Reaction to recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland reveal the distrust that exists with regard to race and ethnicity in our country. While the gap is evident in many environments, perhaps the most visible points of friction occur with police. 

The conclusions of the U.S. Department of Justice report — that Ferguson police use racially discriminatory tactics — is very disturbing. For example, African-Americans are 1.34 times more likely to be stopped in their vehicles and 2.07 times more likely to have their vehicles searched, but are 26 percent less likely to be found with contraband than whites. African-Americans are twice as likely to receive a citation and are 2.37 times more likely to be arrested after a vehicular stop. 

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And perhaps most disturbingly, while police departments in Missouri are not required to document pedestrian stops. The report says that the Ferguson Police Department conducted 31 pedestrian stops from October 2012 to October 2014 and that 30 of those stops were of African-Americans. 

The practice of profiling and bias-based policing alienates the very people who can partner with police to keep our streets safe.

Regardless of your opinion regarding the Michael Brown case specifically, we can all agree that it is unacceptable for anyone to be treated differently based upon their race or any other immutable characteristic. The best way to go about starting to change this paradigm is by addressing bias-based policing through the Missouri Legislature. 

Missouri Senate Bill 559 — the Fair and Impartial Policing Act — would require law-enforcement agencies in Missouri to:

• Document pedestrian stops and require the data collected to be included in the attorney general’s report.  

• Adopt a written policy prohibiting bias-based policing, which should include officers undergoing a minimum of eight hours of anti-bias police training annually.

• Adopt various procedures aimed at decreasing bias in the administration of searches.

• Submit to review by the state Police Officers Standards and Training Commission if that agency’s data reveals patterns and practices of bias-based policing. 

• Create community and law enforcement partnerships to build trust and understanding between officers and the public.

The wise child in the Passover Haggadah knows that every story of oppression is our story and that we cannot stand idly by when we have an opportunity to right a great wrong. In every generation, we must be part of the solution or we become like the wicked child who does not see that this story is about all of us.  

This bill exemplifies the great moral lessons of Passover and Torah that promise that we can create a world where all are safe and free on our streets. Until all are free, not one of us can ever be free.

We look forward to the day when bias ceases to be an issue and we can develop a mutual trust in our communities based on relationships of respect, dignity and the infinite worth of every individual. The effectiveness of the police depends on the trust and confidence of the community. If individuals’ civil rights are compromised, public trust and confidence in the police are severely compromised. 

Please contact your state senator and urge them to support SB 559 and make sure that the Fair and Impartial Policing Act is moved out of committee and debated on the floor of our Missouri Legislature.

Rabbi Susan Talve (above) serves Central Reform Congregation. Jennifer Bernstein is CRC’s director of advocacy and communications.