Alan Zimmerman (61), a Democrat from Charlottesville, VA, was president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right march in August 2017. Zimmerman remembers standing on the steps, watching armed neo-Nazis shouting “Heil Hitler.” He was “not surprised that there is anti-Semitism in America—I’m not naïve—but that it could be displayed so brazenly and even proudly in the streets of an American city was frankly shocking.”
We are providing the unfiltered opinions of voters interviewed for this project. Those views are based on their understanding and perception of facts and information from a range of sources. In some cases, that information may be misleading or incorrect.
What are your reactions to the protests occurring across the country? I am saddened that it took so much time and so many innocent lives, and that so much pain has been felt by communities of color in this nation to get us to this point, but I am thankful that we are finally here. We seem to be at a point where a critical mass, regardless of race or religious beliefs, is aware of what is happening to people of color at the hands of law enforcement (not to mention other institutions), and that awareness means durable change can finally begin to occur. I’m not under any illusion that this problem will magically or quickly be solved or that people of color will suddenly be safe and feel safe in this country just because white people have awakened to what is happening around them. This is a multi-generational fight.
What are your reactions to the looting, curfews and the police response of pepper spray, rubber bullets and arrests? I think this is a ridiculous question insofar as looting is concerned. I think any person of goodwill is opposed to looting, and it has nothing to do with the protests sweeping our nation except for the fact that small numbers of lawbreakers took advantage of the protests in order to cover their crimes. As for pepper spray and rubber bullets, and violent police tactics in general, it appears to me that they have been out of control in addressing what seems, by and large, to be peaceful and Constitutional protests. Ironically, these reactions by police have laid bare the problems with law enforcement that minority communities have been dealing with for decades.
What do you think about the call to “defund” police departments? When I hear “defund the police,” I hear a call for us to take a look at what we are doing, how we are funding it, and whether there is a better way to reach our goals. What is wrong with having these discussions? I think it is a good idea for all communities to take this opportunity to engage in discussions about the role of police in ensuring public safety. Perhaps there is a better way to allocate some resources to other professionals to better deal with problems, like mental health, poverty, domestic disputes, etc., that we currently ask police to address. I also think it is reasonable to discuss whether our police are too heavily armed. Do our police departments really need tanks, which seem to me to be weapons of war and not of community protection? In addition, I think it is reasonable to review and assess the culture of police, and the apparent hostility of that culture towards many of the communities it supposedly protects. Anyone who interprets “defund the police” as meaning “eliminate law enforcement,” like Trump or some conservative commentators say, is either ignorant or lying to gain some political advantage by dishonestly scaring people.
Have you participated in any demonstrations? Yes, I attended a march in my city last Saturday. It was well attended and quite peaceful. Social distancing was not possible, but most people (including me) wore masks. I wasn’t very comfortable in the crowd, pandemic-wise, but I am glad I went, and may attend another march this weekend. I think it is important for people to get out there and be counted on this issue.
How do you think the president has handled this crisis? How has Joe Biden handled this crisis? Trump is an incompetent buffoon. It is simply beyond my ken to understand how anyone of any decency can possibly support him. There really isn’t much Biden can do right now, but I think he has done a good job of letting people know that decency awaits us next January when he is hopefully sworn in, so that hope is something.
Have the events that have taken place over the last week changed your views on the upcoming Presidential election? Not really. I’ve never been a strong Biden supporter, but he is obviously preferable to Trump. Trump is morally repugnant and a danger to the country. He has no bottom, and I am concerned that the next five months will see increased division and depravity out of him. It will be a test for our democratic system and its norms.
Do you think recent events will push people to one candidate or the other? To the extent that they do, I suspect recent events would move undecided voters and perhaps moderate Republicans to Biden (or, alternatively, lead them to stay home and not vote). I’m sure Trump’s base will stick with him, but I can’t imagine that Trump has won over anyone new through all of this, and I am uncertain what he could possibly do to change people’s minds going forward, given who he is. Polling is already showing this dynamic taking hold.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us? I am hopeful that we are poised to achieve something tangible, perhaps some mix of a more humane, compassionate, values-based, and effective public safety policy, along with greater public awareness, sensitivity, and accountability, that both improves the safety and quality of life of people of color immediately, and sets the stage for more change down the road.