On a sunshine-bright day in late September in front of a cold stone building in NYC, that question was asked of Stephen Feinberg, CEO of Cerberus Capital Management – the firm that owns a commanding 94% stake in the Freedom Group which is responsible for nearly $900 million in gun sales in the U.S.
It wasn’t a simple call-out. It had a special importance in that it came from Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim and it came during the Jewish festival of Sukkot: a festival in which freedom and the blessings of life are celebrated along with the need “to stay true to our word to build a safe and just world,” as the Rabbi describes it.
The Rabbi was not alone in questioning Feinberg and Cerberus Capital.
He stood to the side of a crowd of activists which included people from Mom’s Demand Action, the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, NAACP, MoveOn.org, the American Federation of Teachers and the Newtown Action Alliance;
the latter comprised of neighbors and townfolk who rallied around the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School monstrous killing of 20 children and six adults last December.
His was not the only voice.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was there to eloquently demand that Cerberus keep its word. As were Geoffrey Eaton, President, NAACP Mid-Manhattan Branch, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and Monte Frank, a board member of the Newtown Action Alliance.
All were eloquent, all were passionate, but Rabbi Bachman’s
words – the last to be spoken to the gathered crowd – were the most personal in asking Feinberg and Cerberus to keep a promise. It was, essentially, a reminder from a brother to a brother to remember his heritage and to act from it.
What was this broken promise, exactly?
And, exactly what has that got to do with Stephen Feinberg’s name? The promise was a commitment made by Cerberus shortly after the Sand Hook Elementary School Shooting to divest itself of its holdings in the Freedom Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and marketers of firearms.
You might recognize the name of one of their products: Bushmaster XM-15. This was the 30-round magazine weapon of choice used to kill and dismember the children of Sandy Hook Elementary. The results were so horrific that the Connecticut state Legislature passed a bill modifying the state’s Freedom of Information Act in order to “prevent the release of crime-scene photos.”
That fact that the shooter used a Bushmaster did not go unnoticed by Cerberus.
“It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” a statement released by the company on December 18 stated. It continued, “There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group.”
It is two months shy of that deadly day and the carefully-worded statement from Cerberus. And, not a penny’s worth has been divested. In fact, it has realized hundreds millions of dollars in sales over the months since their “promise” was made. The same period of time in which, every 30 minutes, a child is killed by a gun. Day in. Day out.
Freedom Group is the same arm of Cerberus which has paid out $1,000,000 to the NRA so that this group can lobby to keep deadly assault rifles on the street; the same NRA lobbyists that have enough legislators in their pocket to obstruct sensible federal gun safety legislation.
“We stand here, outside Cerberus Capital Management, in this season, to ask you, Stephen Feinberg, to reclaim your ‘good name,’ stay true to your word, and divest Cerberus Capital Management from its ownership in the Freedom Group,” Rabbi Bachman intoned.
“We ask you, Stephen Feinberg, we ask you today, what value do you really get from hundreds of millions in profits earned by the blood of innocents? What value do you get from the profits of weapons made to kill quickly, efficiently, and without feeling? What value do you get from assault weapons, dead children, grieving mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers?”
His ending remarks, in what had now become almost a prayer meeting
“טוב שם משמן טוב–Redeem your good name, Stephen Feinberg. Invest your profits in people’s lives, not guns that kill. Invest in young hearts and minds, not bullets and bombs. Not in the violent and darkened past of mankind’s evil ways but in the bright light and hopeful horizon of peaceful present day.
Redeem your good name, Stephen Feinberg. Redeem your good name.”