Some two hundred people gathered on Tuesday in a Haifa suburb for a rally marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Solomon Teka, an Israeli of Ethiopian origin who was shot and killed by an off-duty policeman in Kiryat Haim, triggering a wave of protests.
Dozens more people gathered in several other cities to protest Teka’s killing in June 2019, some in front of police stations.
Protestors in Kiryat Haim, led by Teka's parents and sisters, marched from the site of the fatal confrontation between Teka and the police officer to the nearby Zevulun police station.
The crowd chanted slogans including "A murderer cop must be in jail," "We want justice," "Justice for the Teka family." Some demonstrators held signs reading "Release the video," a reference to security footage of the incident which they claim is being withheld by police.
During a tour of the scene of the incident a few weeks ago, the officer, whose name has not been released for publication, told the judge in the case that he fired his gun at the 18-year-old because he feared for his life. “They had murder in their eyes,” he said.
The 33-year-old officer, whose high-profile trial is still ongoing, was charged with negligent homicide after the Justice Ministry unit responsible for investigating police officers reached the conclusion that the officer had no real reason to draw his gun and fire – even though Teka had physically confronted the policeman and threw rocks at him, sources involved in the investigation said.
The rally in Haifa started off with a minute of silence dedicated to Teka and other victims of police violence. "We are here to say it is unacceptable for a kid to be killed, no matter the color of his skin or where he is from," one protestor said in a speech. Warka Teka, the victim's father, also held a speech which was translated in real time into Hebrew. "It is a very difficult day, the day to remember my dear son Solomon. A year ago, the day he was murdered at 5 P.M., his mother was heading to work, his sisters went to school without saying goodbye as he was still sleeping," he said.
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"A child cannot be murdered by a police officer," he added, "these kids are not killed by the Hezbollah or the Hamas while defending the state, a police officer killed them."
Many of the protestors referred to the policeman as a murderer during the march.
Teka's killing last year sparked days of rioting, months-long protests and public debate about police policy toward Israelis of Ethiopian origin. One of the most notorious days of the violent riots in July 2019, saw a car set ablaze in front of the iconic Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv after the driver tried to drive through the protest.
“This has been a difficult year,” said on the protesters in the central city of Netanya. “Some of us are pretty sick and tired of the slow pace of the legal procedure. We’re disappointed that the rest of Israeli society didn’t show up. The [Ethiopian-Israeli] community feels alone in this battle, but we won’t give up… and hope that the officer gets the punishment he deserves.”
Social activist Zohar Damase Belay, from Ramle in central Israel, came out to protest after a weekend in which she had to bail out two 14-year-old boys, who were detained for five hours after climbing over a fence to go into a soccer field in the city. A neighbor suspected they had broken into the place and called the cops, who caught them as they were trying to flee.
“One of the boys told me, ‘Next time I’ll see a police officer I’ll be afraid,’” she recalls. “His soul is hurt. The police have to understand why they were running away. They have to understand they were running away from them because they fear them, and not because they did anything.”
According to Damase Belay, “Over the past year there’s a change in attitudes – the media is showing more interest, and many citizens realize that what’s happening between us and the police is real… but at the same time three more people died [by police brutality], and it seems the officers haven’t changed their ways.”
At a protest in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, demonstrators also commemorated Shirel Habura and Eyad Hallaq, who both died in the hands of police over the past year. Joint List lawmaker Ofer Cassif, a resident of the city, joined the some 50 protesters, and said: “We must protest against police brutality, which kills over and over again. Alongside the great respect I have for those who are here, I’m ashamed there aren’t more. In the United States, we see masses take to the streets over the murder of Geroge Floyd, and I would expect it to be the same here. It cannot be that citizens are at risk by those tasked with protecting them.”
In 2018, a report by Emmy Palmor, then the director-general of the Justice Ministry, found that the number of criminal investigations and charges brought against Ethiopian Israelis was extremely disproportionate to their percentage of the population and often based on “trivial” matters. The report prompted the launching of the pardon program which offers people the chance to have their criminal record expunged.