The price of checking your ‘white privilege’ may be high

Jewish kids helped rid schools in their district of police protection to demonstrate their opposition to racism. Can Jews afford to prioritize virtue signaling over safety?

Temple Beth Abraham. Credit: Oakland Wiki via Local Wiki.
Temple Beth Abraham. Credit: Oakland Wiki via Local Wiki.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

It’s the sort of story that makes Jewish hearts swell with pride. As the Jewish News of Northern California reported, a group of Jewish teenagers from Temple Beth Abraham, a Conservative synagogue in Oakland, Calif., set out to work for change and succeeded. The kids gave the country a lesson in effective activism by banding together to help pressure the city’s education system to eliminate its police department.

The board of the Oakland Unified School District voted unanimously last week to abolish their security force of 20 sworn officers and 120 school security personnel. The measure, dubbed the “George Floyd Resolution,” was a project of the Black Organizing Project, which has been seeking such a goal for a decade. The effort may have been pushed over the top by the Jewish teenagers who signed a letter urging its adoption and met with the District’s board president Judy London, who also happens to be a member of their synagogue.

London had opposed a previous effort to abolish the force back in March when it was defeated by a 4-3 vote. Since then, the Black Organizing Project organized a demonstration outside of her home. She also seems to have been influenced by the Zoom meeting with children from her synagogue, who argued that a disproportionate number of those arrested by the school police were black.

In the end, despite misgivings about getting rid of officers who had been trained to deal with school security rather than relying on the city’s police force, the board gave in. As a result, $2.3 million the system annually spends on security will now be reallocated to pay for “social workers, psychologists, restorative justice practitioners and other mental or behavioral health professionals.” Just how much help these people will be in dealing with violence, whether committed by students or outside attackers, remains to be seen.

One shouldn’t doubt the good intentions of these teenagers. But it is fair to ask whether this is as much a function of them shedding their “white privilege” to sympathize with African-Americans who view the police as enemies as it is a demonstration of their lack of awareness about what happens when law enforcement vanishes.

During the last two years, the organized Jewish world has been focused on the danger to their synagogues, schools and other institutions from violent white nationalists, such as those responsible for the murderous Pittsburgh and Poway shootings. Mainstream Jewish groups even belated recognized that African-American assailants were targeting Orthodox Jews for anti-Semitic attacks last year in the Greater New York area. Both problems prompted calls for greater cooperation with assistance from the police. But that is now forgotten as many Jewish liberals declare that they, too, want to abolish or defund police because America is irredeemably racist.

It also seems like only yesterday when liberals were treating the spate of school shooters as a national scourge that required immediate redress. That appears to have slipped the minds of the parents and students who have effectively disarmed their schools against such a threat. It also shows how the law of unintended consequences can sometimes humble activists. The same people who were demanding the enactment of draconian anti-gun legislation are now applauding a trend that, combined with the inability of the beleaguered police of cities across the nation to cope with riots and looting in the wake of the Floyd killing, has led to a vast increase in gun sales across the nation. You don’t have to be a supporter of the National Rifle Association to know that when cops are told to stand down, that convinces many citizens who weren’t previously interested in gun ownership to acquire the means to defend themselves.

You also don’t have to imagine what will happen when a school or a synagogue is under attack, and the only people available to respond are “restorative justice practitioners.” The residents of an upscale Minneapolis neighborhood have showed us exactly what happens when people abolish police on their own.

As The New York Times reports, the “mostly white” inhabitants of the “tree-lined” Powderhorn Park, which is “a haven to leftist activists and bohemian artists,” unilaterally declared their intention never to call the police. The gesture was meant—much like the sentiments expressed by the Temple Beth Abraham teens—to “reduce the pain that black residents of Minneapolis were feeling.”

Once word spread that they had vowed never to call the cops, the area was swarmed by hundreds of people, most of whom are suffering from mental illness and/or addiction, who camped out in a neighborhood park. Along with them came prostitutes and drug dealers.

While the residents are striving not to be “judgmental,” they now fear for their children’s safety. Still, most are apparently undaunted. In an example of how life is sometimes more absurd than satire, one person who was held up at gunpoint by two teens who tried to steal his car did break the pledge and call the police. Afterwards, he, too, repented of his sin against wokeness and apologized for endangering the lives of his armed African-American assailants by calling the police.

The good people of Powderhorn Park appear content to let themselves be victimized. But less altruistic types elsewhere are bound to organize to defend themselves when police become scarce. Does anyone think that vigilante law is a better idea than armed police? That’s especially true for minority residents of poor neighborhoods, who are in even greater need of protection than affluent bohemians.

American Jews have elevated social justice above every other aspect of Jewish life. However, they have forgotten that justice is impossible without the rule of law. Checking their privilege in this manner is itself an example of how disconnected they are from reality. They’re also having trouble understanding that they are still living in a world where security is a necessity for Jews, and that their community cannot defend itself with good intentions and virtue signaling.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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