Unions are lining up with civil rights groups and community organizations across the country and speaking out on the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, an un-armed teenager. The voices from the labor movement are expressing both shock and outrage.
"While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound," said American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten. "It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh."
Weingarten said her union is committed to "fight for laws, policies and practices that will prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels."
"Everyone's child matters," she said. "We pray for the strength of Trayvon's parents and loved ones in this difficult time."
Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said his union is calling for the Justice Department to immediately conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed in the case. "In the fight for justice, it is time to stand our ground," Saunders declared.
The Coalition of Black trade Unionists also backed the call for a Justice Department investigation. "The verdict, whether intentional or not, sends an ominous message to the black community," said the Rev. Terry Melvin, president of the CBTU. "That message is that white fear still trumps the value of black life in America today - whether you wear a suit or a hoodie; whether you live in a struggling neighborhood or a gated community; whether you are minding your own business or being stalked by a stranger armed with a gun and hostility toward folks who fit a negative racial profile. This is reality, not a reality show."
Last year Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, addressed the CBTU convention in St. Louis. Fulton, an active member of the CBTU, thanked labor unions for supporting the family's efforts to get justice for their son. "We said then and we say today the CBTU will stand with the Martin family in their pursuit of justice," Melvin declared.
"The truth is America, we still have plenty of work to do," he said. "The truth is that racial profiling, this despicable and dangerous instinct, still thrives among us, in the George Zimmermans of the world, in people obsessed by fear and the use of lethal force."
CBTU is also calling for restoration of the voting rights for ex-felons because, the coalition notes, African Americans, particularly young males, are disproportionately represented in felony convictions and, therefore, more likely to be excluded from jury service. The coalition says that this exclusion reduces the pool of African Americans eligible to serve on juries, increasing the likelihood of biased decisions by those juries.
Photo: In downtown Seattle, Abdul Kebbeh, 6, among those who marched July 14 to the United States Court House to protest the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com/AP