A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Solidarity with the Browns, Ferguson and unarmed youths

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 2, 3 or 4

Ferguson, Mo., Police Chief Tom Jackson last week publicly apologized to the family of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown, fatally shot by a local police officer in August, saying he was sorry for their loss, for taking hours to remove his body from the street, and for interfering with demonstrators’ rights, but a grand jury there is still deliberating and the FBI still investigating.

Besides such a crawl toward justice, Brown’s killing may reveal the results of economic disparity and political disenfranchisement, and the challenge to and response by labor and progressive groups. However, complaints that unions haven’t weighed in on the tragedy – or aren’t doing enough to demand that cops must stop killing unarmed people – overlook labor’s engagement (although the criticism has some merit for the Left).

After all, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis both have spoken forcefully about the situation, as has the St. Louis Labor Council, plus the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 72, the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1, and others.

This horrendous act is not the same as the case of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teen gunned down. There, the shooter was a violent vigilante who wasn’t even going to be arrested, much less tried, if not for an organized outcry. Instead, the Ferguson killing was by a policeman – a union member, Trumka noted – and it exemplifies an entrenched set of questionable practices by law enforcement and the consequences of an eroding middle class.

Ferguson, North St. Louis County and all its communities have suffered decades of economic disinvestment, loss of manufacturing jobs, and massive disruption by highway construction and airport expansion, the St. Louis American newspaper editorialized, writing, “The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas have been abandoned. Disillusionment, resentment and tension set in where economic opportunities, recreation and thriving businesses once flourished.”

Communications Workers of America Local 6355 President Bradley Harmon told Press Associates, Inc. that unemployment among young black men in the St. Louis area is extraordinarily high – 47 percent – and Brown was a Normandy High School graduate in a struggling school district taken over by the state and in the process of being privatized. Harmon said, “These are issues that are at the heart of the labor movement.”

Civil rights groups have been active, as have clergy. For instance, a group of about 100 religious leaders marched from Clayton, Mo., to the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough to demand an expedited grand jury hearing and the arrest of the shooter, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. En route, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests and representatives of various faiths demonstrated, repeating the episode’s stark phrase, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” But rather than asking, “Where is labor?” in almost an accusatory way, critics might legitimately wonder where the National Organization for Women is, or, Amnesty International, reproductive rights activists, the Occupy movement, climate justice people, or even public figures such as Major League Baseball players and “Cardinal Nation.”

Writing about demands on athletes to publicly insist on stopping such tragedies, Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin said, “We need the full weight of [all] these organizations. We need them using their reservoirs of power, money and influence to demilitarize police departments, demand civilian review boards for the police, and stop the violence. We need them showing the true meaning of solidarity; the idea that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and our struggles are conjoined.”

The Rev. Martin Rafanan -- co-chair of the St. Louis Workers Rights Board of Jobs with Justice and community director for Show Me $15, the fast-food workers advocacy group -- linked the killing to economic inequality. Such injustice, Rafanan said, is “held in place by structural oppression based on race, class and human identities. Without the ability to have the resources to meet basic human needs, take care of families, and create opportunity and dignity in our neighborhoods, Ferguson will happen over and over again. The wealth in the nation is going to capital rather than workers, and that must change.”

Labor is involved, as it must be – as must all progressives.

[PICTURED: St. Louis Labor Tribune photo of AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressing the Missouri AFL-CIO convention Sept. 15, when he said the labor movement must stand up for everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. "An attack on one is an attack on all," he said.]

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