Opinion

Durham City Council statement on policing a courageous act -- Tom Stern

In this New York Times file photo from December 2017, Israeli police clash with Palestinian demonstrators at the Damascus Gate outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 7, 2017.  A petition from Triangle Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups calls on the Durham City Council not to have any police department partnerships with Israeli police or defense forces, or any countries that engage in military-style policing.
In this New York Times file photo from December 2017, Israeli police clash with Palestinian demonstrators at the Damascus Gate outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 7, 2017. A petition from Triangle Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups calls on the Durham City Council not to have any police department partnerships with Israeli police or defense forces, or any countries that engage in military-style policing. NYT

Recently this paper ran an opinion piece signed by approximately a dozen active or retired rabbis criticizing the new Durham City Council policy opposing international exchanges with any country, including Israel, in which Durham police officers receive military-style training.

The council’s action was extremely appropriate and timely. The policy states the council’s concern about the militarization of police forces around the country and the impact that racial profiling and militarization causes for communities of color. The council correctly concluded that such exchanges do not support the kind of policing that we want here in Durham, and voiced its support for Chief Davis to lead Durham toward a policing that is founded on earning community trust until such time when we can embrace a Durham without policing.

The rabbis’ critique is founded on three serious misconceptions.

First, it fails to appreciate why Israel’s style of policing should be a matter of grave concern to cities like Durham. One need look no further than Israel’s recent sniper killings of over 100 unarmed civilians, including a medic and a journalist, as the people of Gaza protested Israel’s 10 year-old blockade and virtual imprisonment that has created a human rights crisis.

The New York Times, Doctors Without Borders and human rights organizations within and outside of Israel have issued scathing criticisms of Israel for these shocking killings when non-lethal force would have easily met all of Israel’s alleged concerns. And virtually all major human rights organizations (again, including those within Israel) have cited the Israeli police and military forces for racial profiling, over-surveillance of the public, disproportionate responses to non-violent or non-threatening protests, arbitrary and sustained detentions without due process, and operating a de facto shoot-to-kill policy of suspected terrorists even when these alleged suspects do not pose an immediate threat. This is not a police and security force that should serve as a model for Durham.

Second, the rabbis have misunderstood why it is entirely appropriate to mention Israel specifically in the new Durham policy. Israel is the only country in the world that has ever provided counterterrorism training to Durham police officers — namely former Durham Police Chief Lopez and two of his commanders.

Furthermore, current Durham Chief Davis, while working with the Atlanta police force, established the APLI International Exchange program with Israel that included anti-terrorism training. Israel is the only country in the world that solicits and engages local police leaders from across the United States to engage in their counter terrorism training programs (as evidenced by the 2017 ADL brochure presented to the council). And Israel is the only country in the world that, through its agents, advertises that the Durham Police Department has participated in exchanges with Israeli police and security forces as part of an effort to recruit more US police leaders to sign up for these trainings.

Finally, the rabbis’ have misconstrued the contents of the petition that Council received on this issue. The Durham2Palestine Coalition (including Jewish Voice for Peace Triangle NC and 26 other local organizations that are coalition members or endorsers) presented the council with over 1,200 petition signatures, most of them local, on April 5, 2018.

The actual petition states ONLY the following: “We are members of Durham’s community committed to peace and justice from Durham to Palestine. We want to live in a Durham that ensures true collective safety for all, and so we demand that the City of Durham immediately halt any partnerships that the Durham Police Department has or might enter into with the Israeli Defense Forces and/or the Israel Police.”

A majority of the people who signed the petition, including most City Council members, did so on a paper version and saw only this one paragraph. As is common for a local community petition drive, the Coalition also had an online petition. This online version contains a brief "background" section which appears before the petition text itself. The Coalition did not present this background section to Council on April 5 since it has never been part of the petition. Yet the rabbis quote exclusively from this background language, wrongly deducing that it was part of the petition.

As a long-time resident of Durham and as a Jew, I think the Durham City Council deserves great praise for its new policy on police training. And those who rail against it need to better understand the facts underlying the council’s courageous action.

Thomas Stern is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace — Triangle NC Chapter.

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