Ethiopian-Israelis protest in Jerusalem as cop who killed teen is freed

Dozens of Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters protested in Jerusalem on Monday as a police officer accused of killing a teenage member of the community last month was released from house arrest.

Seven protesters were arrested as police cleared demonstrators who were disrupting traffic near the Knesset.

The protest came as a Knesset committee met to discuss the country’s failings in absorbing Ethiopian immigrants.

Outside parliament, a few dozen demonstrators protested and chanted slogans such as “a murdering cop has to be in prison,” “we are all Solomon Tekah” and “not black, not white, we’re all humans.”

Some sought to block a nearby road before being cleared by police, who arrested seven people.

“As a mother, I’m scared. You raise a child, he goes out and you don’t know what police could do to him,” said Eden Gamber, a mother of two from Ramle in central Israel.

Police said the demonstration was not authorized and protesters ignored their instructions and blocked the road, disturbing traffic.

The death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah on June 30 sparked three days of nationwide protests which at times turned violent and saw damage to property.

The officer, who has not been publicly named, was off duty when he shot Tekah in Haifa. He has claimed he was trying to break up a street fight and was set upon by three youths who hurled stones at him, endangering his life.

The officer said he did not target Tekah, and instead fired at the ground. A Police Internal Investigations Department probe found that the bullet ricocheted on the ground and hit Tekah, fatally wounding him.

Tekah’s parents were in the Rose Garden near the parliament during the protest on Monday. They would not comment on the release of the policeman who is accused of killing their son without consulting their attorney.

The mother of Yosef Salmasa, whose family claims he was driven to suicide five years ago, months after a violent arrest by police, was also at the protest, Channel 13 TV news reported.

“There is no justice. They see us as less than dogs,” she told the crowd.

The Haifa Magistrate’s Court freed the officer from house arrest earlier on Monday but he still faces court-ordered restrictions in light of expected charges of reckless homicide. The suspect is barred from entering the Zevulun police station in Haifa for 45 days and is prevented from visiting the scene of the killing.

Attorney Yair Nadashi, representing the officer, told Channel 12 TV news that his client has gone into hiding with his family due to threats made against them, but hopes one day to return to his job with police. Nadashi said the officer regrets the outcome of shooting and sends his condolences to the Tekah family.

The officer is expected to face charges of reckless homicide, which carries a sentence of up to 12 years in jail. This new categorization, which came into existence five days ago in a justice system reform, is applicable when a suspect is thought to have taken an unreasonable risk but without the intention of causing death — e.g., playing with a loaded weapon or driving dangerously.

According to Hebrew-language media reports Monday, the PIID said the investigation into the shooting has been completed and the case transferred to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

The Tekah family responded Monday to the expected downgrading of the offense from manslaughter to reckless homicide, saying: “The whole family seeks for the truth to be discovered and justice served, and unfortunately the decisions of the PIID and State Prosecutor’s Office in their public statements show a tendency to attribute reduced responsibility to a police officer who killed our loved one in his prime.”

The family’s lawyer, too, bemoaned the fact that the change in the law meant that the officer could face lesser charges, and said that the officer’s release was a “direct continuation of unfortunate conduct” by officials.

The investigation into the shooting has so far reportedly corroborated the officer’s version of events.

The shooting incident immediately sparked renewed accusations of police brutality and racism toward the Ethiopian community. Days after the shooting, protesters across Israel blocked roads, burned tires and denounced what they said is systemic discrimination against Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

The demonstrations escalated after Tekah’s funeral, when some protesters set vehicles on fire, overturned a police car and clashed with officers and others who tried to break through their makeshift roadblocks.

Ethiopian Jews, who trace their lineage to the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan, began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, when Israel secretly airlifted them to the Holy Land to save them from war and famine in the Horn of Africa.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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