Several top union leaders said the St. Louis County, Mo., grand jury’s decision not to charge police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown almost four months ago spotlights continuing problems in the U.S. justice system and its treatment of minorities, particularly African-American men.
Those comments came from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, came as the nation learned of the jurors’ ruling and debated its impact on race relations.
Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley went even further. He said the inequality the jurors’ ruling re-emphasized is not just a racial problem, but a class problem – which elites impose upon the rest of us.
The grand jurors decided Warren, who is white, would face no state charges in the August 9 shooting of Brown in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. The U.S. Justice Department is still investigating whether Warren violated Brown’s civil rights. The jurors’ ruling set off a night featuring some violence, despite appeals from Brown’s parents, Democratic President Barack Obama and others for calm.
The reactions…reflect a deeper feeling that our justice system is biased against communities of color. While we can all agree that justice must take its course, we cannot deny or marginalize the perception that the system, itself, is not yet color-blind,” Trumka said.
“As a labor movement, we have begun working with local community organizations to address issues of racial and economic inequality that surround Ferguson and so many other neighborhoods like it. We will continue that work. We are dedicated to supporting organizing efforts that reinforce unity, healing, and fairness in policing.” Others sounded a similar theme.
Brown’s death and the grand jury’s ruling “again reminds us there remains much work to be done in creating a justice system that is truly color-blind,” Saunders said. “Racial and economic justice are inextricably linked. To achieve both, AFSCME will continue to fight for good jobs, quality public education, safe streets – and all that creates strong communities and provides people with real economic opportunities and a shot at the American Dream.”
“One can only hope the lack of an indictment isn’t tantamount to any lack of zeal” by the county prosecutor “to enable the grand jury to arrive at an impartial and fact-based decision,” Weingarten said. “This again reminds us there is still much work to be done to achieve racial justice in America. It tells us that our moral compass and legal systems do not always align.
“We should redouble our efforts to ensure all children grow up in safe communities with high-quality neighborhood schools and a local economy rich with jobs – no matter their ZIP code, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” she added.
The jury “deepens wounds” the shooting opened “and amplifies even more the disproportionate and disparate injustices experienced by communities of color,” Henry said.
“Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All lives matter. The dream of America can never be fully realized until justice and safety prevail in every community across our country.
“These injustices reverberate through all communities and take our nation another step away from a fair and just society,” she said.
ATU’s Hanley said the inequality that manifested itself in the shooting and the jurors’ ruling on it “is not just a race issue, it’s a class issue” which “is not being talked about in the media and across the world today.”
“The division of our country around the notion that we must choose villains and assess blame is a false choice. This was a tragedy for both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. We as Americans should not choose sides among them,” he added.
“Street confrontations between police and working-class people are the product of decisions made every day by the politicians who allow an economy that exploits the poor and has advanced the destruction of the middle class.
“We have to see through the smoke and the tear gas of Ferguson to understand that Mike Brown and so many others who find themselves in conflict with ‘the law’ are people trying to survive in a society that very wealthy people are driving into the economic stone age.
“Robert Kennedy addressed these issues” in 1968 after James Earl Ray murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Hanley continued. Kennedy denounced “another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Hanley elaborated. Still quoting Kennedy, he added: “This is the violence of institutions: Indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.”