One of the major factors that led to Louis’ charges being dropped was the solidarity shown by other protesters, who stood with him by refusing to resolve their cases while his was pending. These are the inspiring words of one of those arrestees, Ilana Rossoff, to the judge at her recent plea hearing and sentencing:
Thank you, your honor, for the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings about this process and experience.
A year ago, one morning early last July, I woke up to the news of a young black man being killed just outside St Paul by the police while he was sitting in his car, along with his girlfriend and her daughter, after being pulled over for a broken tail-light. The day after Alton Stirling was killed in Baton Rouge, the summer after Jamar Clarke was killed in Minneapolis, and years after so many police killings of Black Americans, as well as indigenous people and other people of color, queer and trans people, poor people, people with physical and mental disabilities, and people of other identities whose bodies are seen as a threat to those in power and comfort. Another life was taken, and the system that took his life still expresses no authentic remorse or intention to fundamentally change. It was clear to me at that moment that my role and responsibility was different than it had been. Up until that moment, I had followed the lead of black activists and leaders who felt most directly and viscerally the pain and fear of other black people being targeted by police violence, and showed up to protests and found ways to provide support. At this time, I needed to step up and put something more on the line, and not expect that those who are so painfully impacted by this violence expend their energy and risk their safety to put this violence to an end.
As a white person, I was raised to view the police as there to protect me, to keep me safe. I didn’t understand at the time that to feel safe and protected from something, someone needed to be dangerous, whether or not they posed any kind of real or direct threat. I and other white people do not need to be protected BY this violent system; rather, people of color whom I love and indigenous people and POC whom I don’t know but who deserve life actually need to be protected FROM that system.
Philando died because having a wide-set nose is grounds for being assumed to be a suspect in a robbery.
Philando died because having a broken tail-light is grounds for suspicion and investigation, not financial support.
Philando died because a police officer feared for his own life while he held a gun into the car of a man and his family whom he chose to pull over.
There is no justice for Philando’s death. Obviously nothing will bring him back. But even the attempt to pursue a modicum of justice through what is the norm, the criminal justice system, did not serve anything at all, and Philando’s mother, sister, family, and community remain waiting for something meaningful to come from his death. I will forever remain heartbroken alongside them.
In Judaism we are taught that life is profoundly sacred, and that all are created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. Additionally, we also believe that you cannot stand idly by the blood of a neighbor. As a white person whose life is more valued, cared for, and protected by the system of white supremacy that is upheld across all governmental and social institutions, I could not stand idly by.
I do not believe that the gravity of protesting and blocking traffic comes anywhere near to the gravity of someone’s life being taken away. I accept the consequences of my actions last year, but I await real and actual justice for Philando, for Jamar, for Rekiya, for Tamir, too many others. Until there is transformative change that guarantees this will not happen again, how can we be silent?