AFL-CIO recommends actions to end police racism
Sara Nelson, AFA-CWA president, referring to police unions, said, "They have to be part of the solution, or they shouldn't be around. It's that simple." | video snapshot

WASHINGTON —In a comprehensive statement, the AFL-CIO General Board – heads of all its member unions – recommitted the labor movement to working towards implementing wide-ranging recommendations to attack systematic 401-year-old U.S. racism, notably including police racism.

Those recommendations came from both the federation’s own race commission after the previous notorious police murder, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., almost six years ago, and just the week before from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—which includes the AFL-CIO.

Coincidentally, LCCHR issued its 416-page report just after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered unresisting prone African-American George Floyd on May 25 with a knee and all his weight on Floyd’s neck. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd kept gasping before dying.

Two top LCCHR recommendations: Police must “use force only when necessary to resolve conflict and protect public and officer safety” and departments must ‘prohibit and regulate tools and tactics with a high risk of death or injury disproportionate to the threat.” The fed endorsed that report.

“The scourge of police violence against black people in America has reached a tipping point, and it is critical we take comprehensive action to end this injustice once and for all,” the AFL-CIO explained.

“When police brutality occurs, it happens in our backyards and to our families. As such, we feel a special responsibility in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to support our civil rights allies and play a leading role in making sure this time is different.”

“Whether it’s banning chokeholds, expanding use of body cameras, ending racial profiling, de-militarizing our police forces or limiting no-knock warrants, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ recommendations on police reform have the potential to create a fairer, more community-centric policing culture,” the fed said.

The LCCHR report which the AFL-CIO endorsed, actually was much more critical. And it included a warning of how tough changing the police would be.

“Police departments can be resistant to change,” it said. “Indeed, the warrior culture, which emphasizes police as enforcers of law rather than keepers of the peace, is deeply embedded in many police departments. This mindset heightens tension and widens the separation between departments and communities by propagating an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality.”

While the fed backed the leadership conference’s wide-ranging police reforms, its general board also walked a fine line about what to do about police unions.

Its statement backed the Martin Luther King County (Seattle) AFL-CIO’s demanding changes in its local police affiliate, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s demand the notoriously racist Minneapolis police federation – not union – head be stripped of that job and his badge. The city cut off contract talks with that police group on June 10.

But the AFL-CIO also refused to throw the International Union of Police Associations under the bus, so to speak. IUPA, an AFL-CIO affiliate, represents 100,000 officers nationwide, compared to 300,000 or so under the Federation of Police, which is technically an association, not a union. And it was silent on another point police critics have raised: Whether contracts IUPA and FOP negotiate give undue protection to malevolent officers.

The Writers Guild of America-East demanded IUPA be tossed out of the AFL-CIO, and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA strongly backed Black Lives Matter and comprehensive police reform.  IUPA has been silent on Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis officer – and FOP member – Derek Chauvin.

AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson was even tougher then her union’s statement.  “We have to make it very clear for every union in the AFL-CIO that when we see outright violence and oppression against working people, we have to stand against it,” she told Huffington Post. “They have to be a part of the solution, or they shouldn’t be around. It’s that simple.”

The fed took another tack.

“We believe police officers,” like all workers, “have a right to collective bargaining,” it said. Including IUPA, 12 AFL-CIO unions represent police officers, it noted. “We believe the best way to use our influence on the issue of police brutality is to engage with our police unions, not isolate them.”

To get to that goal, the federation will “convene a meeting” of those dozen unions on “developing a code of excellence to create systemic change from within organized labor, including a monitoring and enforcement mechanism.”

The federation praised the mass nationwide demonstrations that began, and continue, against the Floyd murder in particular and systematic racism as a cause. One such protest, in downtown D.C., led to right-wing infiltrators smashing windows and spray painting walls at the AFL-CIO headquarters, using the demonstrators as a cover for their violence.

Just hours later, GOP President Donald Trump staged a photo-op, brandishing a Bible, in front of St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House and literally right next door to the AFL-CIO. In endorsing Trump’s “shameful stunt,” his Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his top military commander, Mark Milley, broke their oaths of office and should quit, the fed said.

Trump Attorney General William Barr said he ordered the area cleared before Trump’s walk. The response, from uniformed officers without insignia, included mounted troops, tear gas and pepper bullets. “America’s soldiers and police officers were ordered to tear gas their fellow citizens so the president could walk to the historic St. John’s Church,” the fed said.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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