Jews all over the world find themselves in a season of judgment: Our high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark the season where we take account –– and accountability — for our actions.
Chicagoans of all faiths, likewise, are entering into a tremendous time of judgment: These same weeks mark the start of Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial.
These two seasons overlap in more powerful ways than just the coincidence of calendar.
The murder case, first and foremost, is about accountability. Were it not for persistent and professional journalists, the possibility of Van Dyke being held accountable for Laquan McDonald’s death might never have happened. Because of the release of the video that showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times — a release prompted by an independent journalist going to court — we are in a position to see justice served, or at the very least, Van Dyke being tried in court.
The case has taught us that justice is not only about trying the accused. Justice calls for accountability at every level. Yes, Van Dyke should be tried for murder. But accountability demands much more than putting one perpetrator behind bars. Full accountability includes the indictment of three officers — Joseph Walsh, Thomas Gaffney and David March — for obstruction of justice for allegedly filing false accounts of the October 2014 shooting. Full accountability should also include a further investigation into the actions of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Supt. Garry McCarthy, even if such accountability will be moot because of the latter’s firing and the former’s decision not to pursue another term. True justice can only be brought in this case if all who worked to keep the truth of this horrible event hidden are held accountable and forced to bear the consequences of their actions.
Accounting for our deeds and examining the consequences of our misdeeds is what we Jews do between our New Year of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur –– the Day of Atonement. We understand we are responsible for the wrongs we have done, and must bear the consequences of our sins of commission and omission.
But accounting for our sins, taking responsibility for our past, is not enough.
The real work in which we engage — once we have taken account of our souls — is that of setting forth a better plan for the new year ahead. We Jews call this Teshuvah, literally “turning” towards our better selves. This turning consists of three important parts.
First, we must admit that what we did was wrong. We must confess, confront our shortcomings.
Second, we need to provide restitution to injured parties. We cannot go forward until we do everything in our power to bring healing to those we have injured.
Third, and most important, we must come up with a plan to change our behavior. Unless we have put serious time and thought into how we will be different people, we cannot earn forgiveness. Until we not only make a commitment to change, but also actually have a plan for how we will be better, can our atonement be complete.
In America, the redress of confession to and conviction of crimes, as well as the means of restitution, are matters for courts of law.
In Chicago, however, there is no official place, no single venue, for the most important aspect of becoming the better city we know we need to be.
We can hold accountable all the officers, chiefs, alderman and mayors we would wish without ever changing the system that allowed for the McDonald killing in the first place.
Instead, we must put in place strategies to ensure situations like this do not arise in the future, including the much-written-about consent decree, a newly negotiated police contract and the election of a new mayor whose tenure must include a change of police culture and a reinvestment in underserved communities.
Only one jury will decide on justice for the killing of McDonald. But it rests on all of us to chart a course to a different tomorrow, to build a just Chicago.
Seth M. Limmer is senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Sun-Times CEO Edwin Eisendrath is a member of Limmer’s congregation.