As the leader of the police union has raged, incited and poured rhetorical gasoline on a tense city, every other significant labor union has gone mute. Not one of them seems able, or willing, to speak up and blunt the din unleashed by the PBA at the mayor, protesters and just about anyone who doesn’t share Pat Lynch’s world-view.
That’s unconscionable and threatens to undermine labor in the months and years ahead.
The basic principles that inspired labor’s agenda for generations are antithetical to Lynch’s divisiveness. Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez once said, “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and gave King office space at union headquarters, where King wrote parts of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. And that tragic moment in Memphis in 1968 was preceded by King’s speech the evening before to striking sanitation workers.
In other words, fundamental to what we in organized labor have fought for is a world in which unions lift up an entire society, advocating not just for a better paycheck but a long list of community needs. Unity, not division, was a guiding principle.
In New York City, the spirit has lived on for many years, largely through the activism and leadership of unions like SEIU 1199, the UAW and the United Federation of Teachers, all of which were active in the protests after the decision not to prosecute in the death of Eric Garner.
As Lynch spouts venom, I find the current silence from fellow union leaders troubling for three basic reasons.
First, labor played a critical role in electing Bill de Blasio. Many unions supported him in the Democratic primary — and he had virtually unanimous labor support in the general election.
Standing by while a rogue union leader launches vituperative attacks may weaken public support for the mayor. That could make it harder for him to champion further advances on top of living wage requirements, paid sick leave and universal pre-K, all initiatives benefiting workers and their families, not to mention higher taxes on the wealthy and rent-law protections.
Second, as Lynch’s divisive ranting goes unchallenged, labor’s overall standing is taking a hit. Young people marching in the streets will ask, correctly, why no labor leader contradicted his poisonous rhetoric. That will hurt our ability to build broad coalitions in the future and recruit young, energetic political activists.
Finally, rebuilding the power of labor requires a constant weaving together of the workplace and the rest of life. Tens of thousands of union members care about their wages and benefits. But they also live in communities affected by a whole range of issues, including relationships with the police.
Unions typically, and understandably, defer to each other when it comes to collective bargaining or workplace disputes. That is not what we face today, though Lynch’s statements could be seen as a cynical attempt to deflect from his failure to secure a contract for his members.
Instead, we confront a communitywide moral crisis. A simple, broad labor statement of unity — supporting the mayor’s efforts, protesters’ rights in a democracy and the good work of the overwhelming majority of decent police officers, and calling for a new campaign to regulate handguns like the one used to murder two policemen and a citywide dialogue on racism and policing — is in order.
And, without saying so directly, it would make clear that a lone wolf who does not reflect labor’s values is fueling the current crisis.
In 1967, King gave a powerful speech at Riverside Church explaining his decision to speak out against the Vietnam War at a time when many people said he should remain quiet. He said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Labor’s silence now is a betrayal.
Tasini (@jonathantasini) is a former labor union official.
Our Name is Rebel: #Asians4BlackLives Protest Police Violence
Our Name is Rebel: #Asians4BlackLives Protest Police Violence
NYPD officers may not consider it a huge deal when one of their own chokes a man to death as he begs them to allow him to breathe, but when two of their own are murdered by a vengeful member of the populace with severe mental issues and a personal vendetta, officers perform the equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out temper tantrum.
Ever since Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned officers who choked the life out of Eric Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, NYPD officers have been stomping their feet. Recently, the officers earned the dubious distinction, alongside Westboro Baptist Church, of being one of only two groups to politicize funerals when police in attendance chose to turn their backs on the mayor as he showed up to pay his respects to the recently-fallen officers.
But the NYPD is not done showing its maturity level: arrests have plummeted a whopping 66 percent since de Blasio “betrayed” officers by offering an honest assessment of the criminal acts of some among them. Rather than condemn their compatriots who chose to murder a man in cold blood, the NYPD has elected to simply stop working.
The NY Post reports:
NYPD traffic tickets and summonses for minor offenses have dropped off by a staggering 94 percent following the execution of two cops — as officers feel betrayed by the mayor and fear for their safety, The Post has learned.
The dramatic drop comes as Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio plan to hold anemergency summit on Tuesday with the heads of the five police unions to try to close the widening rift between cops and the administration.[…]
Angry union leaders have ordered drastic measures for their members since the Dec. 20 assassination of two NYPD cops in a patrol car, including that two units respond to every call.
It has helped contribute to a nose dive in low-level policing, with overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show.
Exactly how little are New York City police working? The Post has the figures:
Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.
Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.
Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.
Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.
While this obvious cry for attention, this petty and rather pathetic reaction to de Blasio’s failure to unconditionally support officers after Garner’s murder, may seem to be a negative, perhaps for a brief while citizens can breathe easy (no pun intended) with the lessened threat of police brutality.
Let’s face it: when the NYPD does their jobs, people get hurt, with the department even refusing to punish officers whose misconduct has been substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Over the years, the department’s wanton abuse of stop and frisk to terrorize the African-American population has become the stuff of legend.
When the NYPD is fully on the job, we end up with incidents like the early 2014 attack on Krystle Silvera and her ten-year-old son. Officers showed up looking for Silvera’s ex-boyfriend in connection to an order of protection violation. When the ten-year-old began recording the police officers who arrived, the officers began assaulting the child.
“I heard my son screaming, ‘You can’t do that! You’re hurting me! Don’t hit me!’” Silvera, who had been upstairs caring for her younger child, said at the time.
Silvera, who was dressed only in her underclothes, was pulled outside in the cold by one of the officers. As she was being restrained, her pierced nipple popped out of her bra.
“The officer flicked the piercing, he flicked the ring up with his finger on my right breast,” Silvera said. “He said, ‘Is this what mothers look like these days?’”
Silvera was charged with assaulting a police officer and released on bail the next day. She discovered that her young son’s leg was black and blue after the attack he suffered at the hands of police. When she was able to take him to the hospital, Silvera discovered her son’s leg was fractured.
“I’ve seen a lot of police brutality cases, but nothing as low as this, kicking a 10-year-old boy,” said family attorney Anthony Ofodile.
Since 2009, New York City has paid out almost a half-billion dollars because of abuses committed by its police force — the same one currently stamping its feet and complaining that it does not have the unconditional support of the Mayor.
No, all police are not bad. However, as long as the so-called “good cops” remain silent and refuse to condemn those who commit atrocities, are there truly any “good” cops? Can we support someone who has done nothing “wrong” himself, yet protects those who do?
It seems that this “slowdown” may be the best possible thing for people like Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Sean Bell, and all other victims of the NYPD’s tradition of abuse — and protection of abusers.
How many deaths has this temper tantrum already prevented at the hands of out-of-control police? Perhaps we will never know — but African-Americans in New York City can breathe a little easier knowing that officers are avoiding doing what they consider to be their jobs.