No tear gas. No stun grenades. No rubber bullets.
With more than a dozen speakers and musical interludes blasting over a PA system, Monday morning’s “Kneeling for Justice” demonstration in memory of George Floyd and against police brutality, held on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, lasted well into the heat of the afternoon.
Rabbis Beth Singer, Jonathan Singer and Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El stood by civil rights leaders, activists, public officials and those impacted by police violence, as the crowd tried (and often failed) to maintain social distancing standards.
Upwards of 1,000 people gathered at Civic Center Plaza, wearing masks, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and holding signs including “Silence=Complicity,” “Love Ends Hate,” “Defund the Police” and “Justice for Mario Woods,” a 26-year-old fatally shot by San Francisco police in 2015.
The event was spearheaded by the local group Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community and emceed by its founder, Phelicia Jones. It follows the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer in an incident captured on video, which went viral and has sparked protests across the country. Curfews have been set across the Bay Area, including in Santa Clara, Sonoma, Alameda and San Francisco counties, where vandalism and looting took place alongside the protests.
“I did not want this protest to be like that,” Jones announced to those gathered. “I want us to come together, to mourn, to hear some music — because music soothes our souls — and to let you know that social justice is real.”
The rally featured a star-studded cast of speakers, including the civil rights legend and president of San Francisco’s branch of the NAACP Amos C. Brown, Mayor London Breed and the Academy Award-winning actor and musician Jamie Foxx.
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,” Foxx crooned by way of opening his address, to roars from the crowd. His sweatshirt read “Busy making my ancestors proud.”
“I just want to let you know I’m not Hollywood, I’m just a person,” said Foxx, who hails from the small town of Terrell, Texas. “But the one thing I can say — I was there in L.A. when there was the Rodney King beating. I watched that and I said, ‘If they get away with this now, what’s going to happen later?’ And it continues to happen.”
Brown invited Jonathan Singer to speak at the event. But with so many African American speakers slated to take the microphone, including Mario Woods’ mother, who gave an emotional speech, the rabbi said he felt it appropriate to let the collection of black voices be heard instead.
“It was really important for the Jewish community to add our voice, and express our pain and our allyship,” Singer told J. “All of us are in pain over this.”
Both Singers wore tallits, channeling images of the civil rights leader Abraham Joshua Heschel walking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Selma march in 1965. That was by design, the rabbis said.
“We want to distinguish that we are representing parts of the Jewish community for whom this is a very serious tzedek [justice] issue,” Beth Singer said.
All three Emanu-El rabbis kneeled with others at the front of the demonstration on the City Hall steps, echoing the disturbing way Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck until he died (Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder). Jonathan Singer said it was important for the Jewish community to marshal its inner resources and reach out to others during this painful moment in history.
“We need our faith and our values — and an extensive minyan with the greater San Francisco community — to come together to stand up against this kind of senseless violence,” he said.