A physical virus helps us see our historic virus

[These were my words at the June 15, 2020 Restorative Justice CLT Teach-In.]

As I do this work, I keep this image of Jonathan Ferrell on my desk.

In 2015, when the email came asking if any clergy would be willing to be a part of support team for a mother, Mrs. Georgia Ferrell, going through the trial of an officer who was being charged with excessive force that led to the death of her unarmed 21 year old son, and I raised my hand.

On the first day of the trial, I had offered to take Mrs. Ferrell out to lunch. I arrived at the courthouse early and caught an hour of the trial as the defense team was putting her son Jonathan’s, character on trial.  Yes, he’d been with friends having fun, but he was driving home when he accidentally swerved off a curve and his car tumbled into a ditch. Disoriented he knocked on the closest door. No one blames the mom who was alone with an infant for calling the police with concern. A new young officer, was scared and made the decision to shoot Jonathan, who was unarmed, 12 times – even when was down.

When the court broke for lunch, I approached Mrs. Ferrell and was introduced to her whole family around her.

“Mrs. Ferrell,” I said, “Since you have so many members of your family with you today, why don’t I come back another day?” And she said, “Rabbi Judy, you are family.”

We have to see all of us as family standing together. We are family.

In this midst of this pandemic — in this worst time in global history that so many of us have seen in our lifetime, this physical virus is helping us to better see an economic, spiritual, and moral virus that is killing our country, and killing each one of us. We are in the process of healing not only from this pandemic but we are healing from 400 years of violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

Healing is a three part process in Judaism. Number one, an apology – we did wrong.

Number two, restorative justice. We are creating a restorative justice fund for everyone to fund so the Black community can give to accelerate healing and upward mobility in the Black community and not be held in racist system of philanthropy where only trickles make it through to those who need it most in our community. If you say “Amen” today, please go to Restorative Justice CLT, and give money to right an historic wrong. It can be a “Bernie Sanders” style campaign with grassroots and thousands, and tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of Charlotteans saying, “I get it. We did wrong.” Money can be used to hurt and money can be used to heal. We need to use our money to repair the wrongdoing.

Step number 3, is changing systems so that we don’t replicate the injustices over and over again. This Restorative Justice Fund will soon be set up as an endowment. You can say, “I want my money to criminal justice and reentry because we built a courthouse and a jail where the Black community once thrived. I want it to go the faith community; to mental health because we have caused trauma; to business and entrepreneurial loans; to education and scholarships to early childhood education. You can determine where you want that money to be spent and the African American community will honor your designation and allocate funds differently than white philanthropists have done all this time.

We will set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission because we need truth telling and we need justice before there can be reconciliation. We will hear the stories of oppression, redress them, and recommend and implement change to that we can finally dismantle the racist system that continue to shackle our Black siblings.

We have set up Restorative Justice CLT. Where is it’s office? It is housed at The Brooklyn Collective in the building that was once The Mecklenburg Investment Company, the center of what was once Black Wall Street in Charlotte.

Lilla Watson, the aboriginal abolitionist stated that “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your redemption is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” As Pastor Boswell said, our redemption is tied up with the redemption of our Black and brown siblings.

Healing will come to this global pandemic — this worst crisis many of us have seen in our lifetime. At the same time, we will work tirelessly for healing to come to this pandemic of racism that has lasted centuries. I have hope. I have faith. I have all of you with whom to walk and work side-by-side as we stand behind the Black leadership of this community to make it happen.

[Image by Clay Banks.]

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