Brothers and Sisters,
I will never know what it is like to be a person of color in this country, or fully understand the nuances of systemic racism that People of Color deal with. I have never spent a second in my life wondering if a decision that did not go in my favor, was based on the color of my skin. I have never been racially profiled upon walking into an office building or just walking down the street. I have never been pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and asked "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" However, many of my friends and co-workers of color deal with these issues all the time. Since I do not walk in their shoes, I don't think I have the right to tell them how to feel...and I won't. Now is a time to listen, and understand, and take action!
I know this is an uncomfortable letter and subject for some of us to read. It should be, but it pales in comparison to the plight of some of our members. For that reason we cannot and should not stay silent. An African-American member of our Local explained to me that George Floyd could have just as easily been him or his son, and it scares him and angers him. That hit home for me, because I realize I will never have to carry that burden. But I want to do my part to make sure one day he won't either, and I hope all of you feel that way and will join me.
As a Union Leader and President of this Local, I fight for fairness and justice on the job every day, but it would be hypocritical of me to fight for fairness and justice on the job while ignoring injustice and discrimination that many of my members and friends face. I spent some time this week speaking with and listening to African-American members of this great Local to gain a deeper understanding of the issues and find out what we as a Local could do better, if anything, and not only support on this issue but lead. A recurring theme was education. I was told that some members say things in the workplace or on social media that are insensitive and in some cases, downright hurtful. In many cases it is not even intentional, but it stings nonetheless. We should listen to those who have experienced social injustice when they tell us our words matter.
I understand completely that all lives matter. Everybody knows that all lives matter. It is understood that all lives matter. It's that right now, black lives don't matter to far too many people. Black Lives Matter is an important movement slogan because it serves as a reminder that Black Lives Matter...too. When people mock or attack the name of the movement rather than address or acknowledge the underlying problem, it is seen by those of color as a blatant refusal to acknowledge their experiences and a rejection of their plea for help. When people say, "We have to save the Rain Forests" it is because the rain forests are in crisis. No one argues, "We have to save ALL forests." Please stop saying "All Lives Matter," it is understood.
Over the years this Local has helped many members and member's families with substance abuse problems and we will help many more in the years to come. None of our members have ever been made to wear it like a Scarlet Letter. I don't care what type or how many drugs were found in George Floyd's system at the autopsy; that does not justify his Murder. Words matter and blaming the victim is wrong.
I don't believe in or condone violence during protests as a means to an end. It becomes a distraction from the WHY. WHY there are protests in the first place. WHY they were necessary. But I also think it is important to stop telling people of color when or how or what is an acceptable form of protest, as long as it is peaceful. Protests are meant to be uncomfortable. Protests and direct action are one of the only ways for the working class to effect real change and progress in this country. We should know that because when we go on strike, or when we rally outside work locations, or when we march down an Avenue, we are protesting. We do it because it brings awareness to the public, we do it because it puts pressure on our target, we do it because it promotes solidarity within our ranks, and most of all we do it because it works.
It would be a terrible omission and wrong of me if I did not say that Police Officers are NOT all bad. Most are good. My Grandfather, Father, and Brother were all police officers, and I have many friends in the same profession, and I have the utmost respect for them and their desire to protect and serve those of all races in the community. But I have had real and honest conversations with my family and friends in law enforcement, where they have unequivocally acknowledged that some of their fellow officers on the force were irresponsible and ignorant and racist. Officers they wouldn't want to work with, officers they would not socialize with, officers who never should have had a badge or a gun. That is a fact. So, to me, the answer is not getting rid of all police, as some have called for, it's implement needed criminal justice reforms, weed racist officers out, and stop the profiling, harassment, and brutality of our friends and co-workers of color.
Our Local will become even stronger than it is today if we all try and be more empathetic towards people of color, our Brothers and Sisters. Let us try and be willing to admit there are things that we don't know or understand, to accept that there is more than our own personal experience. We can no longer be silent.
The Local 1103 Executive Board and the Joint Equity and Women's Committee are committing to support and lead on this important issue. We are in a moment in this country where we feel like significant change is within reach and we should all do our best to help push it in the right direction. We are starting out with three actions that are simple but meaningful.
- Take a selfie or a photo with your family and a homemade sign that says "Say No to Racism" or some other topic appropriate slogan and send it to CWA1103@CWA1103.org. We will post it on our Facebook pages.
- Thursday, June 11 @12:00 pm we are calling on all members to "stop work and reflect" for 8 minutes and 46 seconds-the length of time the police officer kneeled on George Floyd's neck, killing him.
- Each Friday, through the month of June, we are asking all members to wear a black shirt to work in support of our Brothers and Sisters of color.
We know that our members work under many different circumstances. We are asking all members to observe these actions in a way that makes the most sense given their circumstance.
CWA Local 1103