By Daniela Appel
In response to both the continuing crisis of COVID-19 and the racial equality movement after the death of George Floyd, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council hosted a leadership briefing with U.S. Representatives Colin Allred and Van Taylor June 18 to facilitate communication and discussion.
A.J. Rosmarin, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, said the Federation has worked to provide information and assistance to the greater Dallas Jewish community, as well as being a forum for elected officials to hear the needs of the community and partner social services agencies.
This was the third online briefing since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The first was with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins April 22, and the second was with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson May 21. A fourth briefing is scheduled with Governor Greg Abbott on Friday, June 26.
As the public affairs division of the Jewish Federation, the JCRC “is motivated by the values of justice and righteousness, and an imperative to make the world — and in this case our North Texas corner of it — a better place. We work with long-standing partners in the Jewish and greater community to make Dallas a more just and equitable place to live for all its residents,” said JCRC Chair Cindy Sweet Moskowitz.
The JCRC invited Allred and Taylor to share their viewpoints and discuss the work of the government on current critical issues.
The conversation opened with a discussion on the racial inequality protests sparked by George Floyd’s death, caught on video while he was in custody of Minneapolis police May 25.
“We’ve had much more honest conversations about race in the last month than in most of my life. Slogans are easy. Change is hard. Policy is complex. There is no quick answer. It took a long time to develop an antagonistic relationship. It takes time to unwind. It’s about accountability. We have to break through scar tissue and the biggest thing to do is stop pretending it’s not happening.”-U.S. Rep. Collin Allred
Allred, a Dallas Democrat, said Congress has been “working on legislation to improve the relationship and accountability between the police and communities of color, especially African American communities. [We] want to increase compliance and build a protective layer for African Americans and other communities to have faith in their government.”
Those steps include banning of chokeholds, eliminating no-knock warrants in federal cases, a requirement for bodycam storage and release of footage in key cases, ending qualified immunity, ending racial profiling through providing training funds to police departments, and the housing of a national misconduct database, which makes it harder for officers to be fired for misconduct in one place and hired in another.
Allred also stated that the flow of military equipment to the police must end. “We don’t want our police to be the military. When we see armed vehicles rolling down our American streets and armed officers at peaceful protests nationwide, including in North Texas, it can have an escalatory impact.”
The Jewish community plays a large part in a better tomorrow, Allred said. “Jewish Americans understand calling out what the issue is, structural issues, bias, and how race influences how people are treated,” he said.
He shared that as painful as this is for the African American community, him included, he has a true hope that now is the time for our country to have honest conversations about race. “We’ve had much more honest conversations about race in the last month than in most of my life. Slogans are easy. Change is hard. Policy is complex. There is no quick answer. It took a long time to develop an antagonistic relationship. It takes time to unwind. It’s about accountability. We have to break through scar tissue and the biggest thing to do is stop pretending it’s not happening.”
Representative Taylor, a Plano Republican, said he is also unsettled by the racial inequalities. “Where we are as a country is upsetting and unacceptable. We have moved closer to a more perfect union, but it is still not good. The pain so many feel about policing and the way communities of color are treated is not acceptable. We need to see substantial change.”
Taylor has seen multiple pieces of legislation move through Congress and believes that all are coming from the right place, “with a hope for change that we will come together to take most important step forward so people aren’t afraid of police based on skin color. It should never be that way,” he says.
He acknowledged that it has been a stressful time and one in which change is imperative.
I hope we can come together as a country to make changes. Having conversations is the beginning. So much has happened through faith leaders reaching out, stepping out, making change. We cannot stay where we are. As a country we need to move forward,” said Taylor.
The conversation then shifted to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, also a place of great pain, as tension grows between supporting the economy and the uptick of public health concerns locally, making Dallas County a hot spot for new cases and hospitalizations.
“From a leadership perspective, we need to be honest about the scope of the challenges we’re facing. [We are experiencing] exponential growth. This won’t get better until we change,” said Allred with regard to the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Taylor reflected on the challenges COVID-19 has presented, the measures Texas communities have taken, and where we still need to improve. “COVID-19 has really turned our world upside down. It has challenged us in many ways. It’s not over. Stay home and avoid large gatherings if you can. Be thoughtful about what and how you are doing this.”
These are deep, meaningful and emotional issues, Taylor says. Yet there are still silver linings. “We also should be proud of, as Texans, how our state and my county (Collin) have handled this.”
Allred said that the current challenges can help us grow stronger as a state and country. “I want us to hold on to that we are Texans, we are Americans,” Allred said. COVID-19 and the Floyd death and resulting protests “have shown us how interconnected we all are. We are responding collectively to this. We have to. I hope these crises are also opportunities for us to see neighbors differently. We can do better for everyone.”