Congratulations to Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Distinguished Citizen Honree on the Irvine Wall of Recognition

I recently had the pleasure of nominating Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Senior Rabbi at Congregation of Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, to be honored as a Distinguished Citizen on the City of Irvine Wall of Recognition.

Established in 2006 and located in Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park across the from Civic Center, the Wall of Recognition is a hallmark of Irvine. Even before Irvine became a city, there was a spirit of community activism, involvement, and pride that set the tone for the municipality Irvine would become. Since the City’s incorporation in 1971, hundreds of individuals have dedicated themselves in service to Irvine as Mayors, City Council Members, Commissioners, Committee Members, and leaders of community organizations. The Wall of Recognition honors these individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses who have made significant contributions to the community.

Rabbi Steinberg embodies the spirit of service to the community. Born in Northern California, Rabbi Steinberg initially studied criminal justice in college and trained to be a police officer.  He then felt a calling to serve as a rabbi, earned a masters degrees in Hebrew letters and family therapy, and was ordained as a rabbi in 1995. After serving a congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rabbi Steinberg returned to California to lead Shir Ha-Ma’alot in July of 2001.  At that time, the congregation consisted of 300 member families. Today, it is a thriving congregation of well over 600 families.

In the years since he assumed the leadership of Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Rabbi Steinberg has become a community leader in Irvine and Orange County.  He has long served as Chaplin for the Irvine Police Department and as a member and Chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, whose mission is to “seek out the causes of tension and conflict, discrimination and intolerance and attempt to eliminate those causes.”

Rabbi Steinberg also serves on the Boards of the Jewish Federation, Orange County Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League. He is extremely active at the Jewish Community Center, Tarbut v’Torah and Morasha Day Schools.  He is key point person on the University of California, Irvine, campus dealing with the issues of tolerance and diversity. He is the recipient of the “Outstanding Devotion to the Jewish Community Center” award, the “Yachad Award for Outstanding Jewish Community Service” given to a local Jewish professional each year and he was honored by the Central Region of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.

I have known Rabbi Steinberg as a friend and spiritual advisor.  When my mother passed away, he visited and brought kindness and healing to my father.

I have also known Rabbi Steinberg as a fighter for justice, a powerful voice against bigotry and intolerance, and as an inspiration in my own journey toward more effective servant leadership.

In response to the hatefull, White Supremist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Rabbi Steinberg urged the OC Human Relations Commission to speak out against it loudly and clearly. “When there is hatred, it needs to be called out as such and responded to with a loud voice that is unequivocal,” Rabbi Steinberg said.  The OC Register wrote that “[Rabbi] Steinberg became emotional as he described his feelings as a Jewish man listening to anti-Semitic chants and seeing flags bearing the swastika, the symbol of Adolf Hitler’s regime that exterminated 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. ‘We need to find ways to have peaceful conversations,’ he said.”

When there were anti-Jewish incidents in Orange County, Rabbi Steinberg wrote that “Hate always begins with words. Then words un-responded to will always lead to hate action. And hate action un-responded to will always lead to hate violence.  Let us be people who respond.  If we lose friendships over our responses, so be it.  If we are not part of the group because of our righteous response, then so be it.  The alternative of not responding at the very least is re-wounding those who have been literally scared by violence rooted in hate.  The very most that can happen if we respond is that we might change someone’s heart from hate to love, from ignorance to knowledge, from foe to friend.”

Irvine is a far better place because of Rabbi Richard Steinberg and he well deserves to be honored as a Distinguished Citizen on the City of Irvine Wall of Recognition.

But it is not only Irvine that is a better place — the world is better place because Rabbi Steinberg lives among us.

 

Top photo credit: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG.

 

 

 

 

Irvine Must Declare Its Unequivocal Condemnation of the Murder of George Floyd. We Must Also Commit to Immediate, Practical Changes to Our Own Use of Force Policies

The Irvine City Council will be considering at our next meeting on Tues., June 9, a proposed “Resolution Assuring Our Community that the City of Irvine Will Not and Does Not Tolerate the Violent Treatment of Others and the Disregard of the Sanctity of Human Life” in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, as well as the protests taking place across the nation, including Irvine.

I strongly agree that the City of Irvine must go on the record officially declaring its unequivocal condemnation of the killing of George Floyd, casually and callously murdered by police officers on an American street in full public view and with an attitude of absolute impunity.

But a resolution alone is a woefully insufficient response to the killing of George Floyd and to the widespread and justified outrage across our nation.

This murder was no isolated incident. George Floyd was another person of color killed by excessive police force in a horrible history of victims of widespread and systemic racism that has plagued us since 1619.

As municipal officials, it is incumbent upon us not only to speak against this murder and the racism underlying it, but even more importantly, to make concrete, substantive changes to our use of force policies and procedures to assure a safer and more just future for our whole community.

As currently written, the proposed resolution fails to specifically acknowledge the profound pain and anguish in our nation and in our own community caused by the death of George Floyd and the racism and injustice his death has exposed; it fails to acknowledge the systemic racism and implicit bias and discrimination against people of color that has plagued our law enforcement practices; it does not acknowledge the justice of the cause of the rightfully outraged peaceful protesters, including thousands of Irvine residents; and it does not make any practical changes to the use of force policies for law enforcement in our own City

There is much that we can and should do as elected leaders in Irvine rather than simply state platitudes while taking no concrete action. Irvine needs to seize this moment and make real institutional changes to our use of force policies and procedures in support of justice and real equality.

Our neighboring City of Tustin has done much better.

Accordingly, I will move to amend the currently proposed resolution, using the Tustin proclamation as our guide.

Specifically, I will move that we add the following language taken from the Tustin proclamation: “the City Council supports peaceful protests in [Irvine] that can serve as a critical tool for public awareness; “the City also intends to engage the community to promote open dialogues about intolerance of racism, implicit bias, and discrimination,” and that Irvine “proclaim its solidarity with those who protest peacefully against injustice, racism and hate.”

Additionally, I move to immediately adopt the following eight common sense “use of force” policies that have been identified by experts as having the greatest impact on reducing the excessive use of force by law enforcement and ending the mistreatment of people of color:

  • Prohibit the use of choke and strangle holds.
  • Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force.
  • Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.
  • Develop a “force continuum” that limits the types of force and/or weapons that can be used to respond to specific types of resistance.
  • Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.
  • Prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning before shooting at a civilian.
  • Require comprehensive reporting that includes uses of force and threats of force.

My call for these changes does not mean or imply criticism of the professionalism and dedication of our own Irvine Police Department.

I have tremendous confidence in the integrity and commitment of our police officers, and the inspirational leadership of our Chief of Police. Not only has the Irvine Police Department made Irvine America’s Safest City for 14 years in a row, Irvine was 1 of only 11 police major departments in the nation that did not use deadly force from 2016-2018.

I am glad that Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel has publicly stated that he was personally “deeply disturbed” as a member of law enforcement by the “unjust and disgraceful” murder of George Floyd; that it “erodes the trust and confidence we work so hard to reach”; and that he demands that his officers “treat every member of the public with respect and professionalism.”

Nor does my call for these changes in our use of force policies mean or imply criticism of law enforcement officers in general. The majority of police officers in our nation are dedicated and conscientious public servants, true to their oaths to serve the public with respect and fairness.  As the daughter of a retired law enforcement officer, I know the difficulties faced by law enforcement and the sacrifices that law enforcement officers and their families make to keep our communities safe.

It is as a supporter of law enforcement and a member of a law enforcement family that I say that now is the time to end, once and for all, the murder and mistreatment of black and brown people by the police. In particular, now is the time to adopt common sense restrictions on the use of force against civilians as the best way to counteract the institutional bias and systemic racism against people of color.