As I write this, I feel the very real pain that most of America feels as we look back at the events of this last week. No feeling human being can avoid the sense of disillusionment and loss, watching now too often repeated images of a person of color dying at the hands of those who are sworn to “protect and serve.” The image of George Floyd pinned neck down to the road by a sworn police officer; who like us is a son, a brother, a father, an American citizen and human being with full rights, freedoms and fair protections provided by the U.S. Constitution and our democratic government; crying out in anguish and desperation as his last few dying breaths are crushed out of him, as he cries out in pain for his mother. Another tragic day in what we call the United States of America, so-called land of the free, home of the brave.
More unfortunately, this heartbreaking incident is not the first time we as Americans are hearing the tortured cries of “I can’t breathe”, watching the senseless killing and murders of unarmed American Africans. In July 2014, a cellphone video captured the final words of Eric Garner as New York City police officers sat on his head and pinned him to the ground on a sidewalk.
We watched the recent videos showing: Ahmaud Arbery, murdered while simply jogging in broad daylight; Freddie Gray, while being transported in a police van; Tamir Rice, a 12-year kid while playing on a playground; John Crawford, while shopping in a Walmart store; Sam Dubose, for missing a front license plate; Philando Castile, for driving with a legally permitted firearm; not to mention what happened to Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDole, William Chapman II, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and on and on, a systematic continuation of what has been happening in our country for more than 400 years. When you see the same circumstances and tragic outcomes play out over and over again, simple denials and excuses are no longer possible … This is RACISM, plain, simple and truly evil. And this cancer – the original sin our nation – permeates our lives and stains our nation as it consumes the lives and livelihoods of the working people of America, especially those of color.
Why do I say “working people?" Because as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said last week:
“… this is a labor issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality.”
Essentially, as working people in America, we must never stop fighting for economic, social and racial justice for all. Racial privilege and prejudice must have no place our American society.
At the same time, this statement of solidarity in no way condones the actions of a few who are taking advantage of this tragedy by laying waste and inflicting destruction upon our community. Their violence and reckless disregard for life detracts from the sincere intentions and tireless efforts of those who peacefully protest in an honest effort to right this terrible wrong and bring about change that is so sorely needed and long overdue. However, as a good friend recently reminded me, let’s not confuse our most important priorities: Instead of thinking “It’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop”, we should be reinforcing “It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men HAS TO STOP.” If you cannot sincerely say this statement... if you cannot meaningfully live/act upon this statement... then you do not mean it.
Just know this though…no amount of violence and destruction will deter the efforts of working people of all colors to bring about the end to America’s historic and systemic inequities of economic, social, and racial justice. We stand in steadfast solidarity with our Sisters and Brothers of all colors against hate, greed, and those who seek to keep the good, honest, hard-working people of America divided. No number of burned building, or panes of broken glass will stop us. As stated by Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
"If one suffers, we all suffer. Togetherness is strength,"
and the great Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The work of the AFL-CIO goes on unabated.
I proudly deliver this Labor message on behalf of our President Bill Froehle, twenty-one Executive Board members (who unanimously approved this message at a meeting held earlier today), one hundred and four union affiliates and over 30,000 union members covering our greater Cincinnati jurisdiction.