Brutality Against Ethiopian Israelis Has Reached a State of Emergency

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Protesters demonstrating against the police shooting of Solomon Teka in Kiryat Ata, July 3, 2019.
Protesters demonstrating against the police shooting of Solomon Teka in Kiryat Ata, July 3, 2019. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The hurried attempts to understand, explain and excuse the shooting of Solomon Teka are just as outrageous as the shooting itself. The police chief calling on the Ethiopian community to be patient and show restraint – rather than declaring a state of emergency in the police force, as an impetus for it to undertake a serious reckoning of its attitude toward and treatment of Ethiopian Israelis – is symptomatic of the police’s insensitivity and overall obliviousness.

The Ethiopian youths who have come out to protest throughout the country want to make a simple human statement: Our lives are not worthless! How many more Ethiopian youths have to die as a result of police violence for Israeli society to wake up, for it to truly grasp that the color of Teka’s skin is what “explains” the intolerable ease with which a police officer could pull out a gun and shoot him, even when his life was in no danger?

>> Read more: No one did anything to defuse the Ethiopian-Israeli 'time bomb' | Analysis ■ Why did they shoot him? | Editorial

Yes, we must wait for the results of the investigation; yes, an effort must be made to get to the truth of just what happened. But the numbers tell a broader, ongoing story that is hard to ignore. Police statistics show that between 2015 and 2017, there was a drastic increase in the number of cases involving people of Ethiopian descent. Teka has joined the list of Ethiopian youths who died as a result of police violence.

The call for people to wait until the internal investigation is completed sounds reasonable, but when past incidents are taken into account, it’s hard to believe that it will amount to much. The case against the officer who shot and killed Yehuda Biadga was closed; the officers who arrested Yosef Salamsa (who later committed suicide) and tossed him, handcuffed, outside the police station were released without consequences; nor did the officer who savagely beat Damas Pikada face any serious proceedings. Given all this, why should anyone expect the police to conduct a meaningful internal investigation?

In the Biadga case, the flaws in the internal police investigation were glaring. Investigators were prevented from taking testimony from one of the key witnesses of the event and spread lies the very next day (“the footage was edited”). Keren Ben-Menahem, head of the police internal investigations unit, made an outrageous statement: “As far as possible, we should avoid arresting officers suspected of criminal offenses and bringing them to court until the investigation is complete.” Young people of Ethiopian heritage are the ones paying for the cozy relationship between the police and the organization that is supposed to be overseeing it. They are dying and no one is seriously prosecuting the abusive police officers and those who dispatch them.

To date, no policy has been formulated to genuinely address this terrible situation. Not only does the police internal investigation unit take a feeble approach, but law enforcement is hardly doing anything about abusive officers. Rather than adopt a zero-tolerance policy on police brutality, it is shamefully tolerant and forgiving of such conduct.

The media has failed too. The questions that should have been asked are: Why was the police officer released to house arrest the day after the shooting, and why was a gag order placed on reporting his name?

The Israel Police doesn’t cooperate with any civic organizations that could help with training officers on ways to deal with racism and prejudice. The same failures can also be seen on the community policing level. Unless these important steps are taken – serious punishment and deterrence, combined with education to combat racism – the lives of young Ethiopian-Israelis will not be valued equally, and the cohesiveness of Israeli society will suffer as well.

The writer is the chairwoman of the Association of Ethiopian Jews.

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