Over the past six months we have been shocked and outraged again and again as we heard about young, unarmed Black men and other people of color killed by police officers. We have also been shocked and outraged again and again as the white officers involved in those killings evaded facing the justice of fair and open trials in front of juries of their peers. Our Local Union has passed and published resolutions on specific cases but it is becoming increasingly clear to us that these are not isolated incidents but indicators of systematic failings in our nation’s policing and criminal justice systems.
Too many Black men and other people of color have been killed, too many police officers have walked free, and too many people in our communities have lost faith and trust in our nation’s policing and criminal justice system. We believe that it is time for transformative action:
- It’s time for State and Federal officials to intervene to hold law enforcement officials accountable for excessive uses of force, racial profiling, and other violations of civil liberties.
- It’s time for local officials to work with law enforcement agencies to embrace transformative changes to build and rebuild the trust of the communities those agencies are sworn to protect.
- It’s time for unions representing police officers to stop their campaigns of victim blaming, withdraw their aggressive defense of indefensible acts, and to embrace transformative changes in their police departments to address issues of systemic and structural racism in the criminal justice system.
A Generation Left Behind
For more than 100 nights, young people in Ferguson, Missouri have taken to the streets to demand justice for Mike Brown and accountability for his killer, Darren Wilson. They have faced down shocking levels of police violence, braving tear gas, pepper spray, tasers, batons, and hundreds of arrests. And in the streets for those 100-plus nights, a lost generation–the millennial generation–has found its voice.
The millennial generation is the first generation in recent American history that will not do as well as their parents. This generation lived through years of deindustrialization and failed trade policy, more than a decade of wars that took money away from schools and social services and forced young people into battlefields half a world away, and the most devastating system of criminalization and incarceration in the history of the world.
Today there are more than 2.4 million people in prison in the United States. US prisons saw a 700% increase in population between 1970 and 2005. This massive increase in incarceration rates disproportionately impacts men of color. According to data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics one in three Black men can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime. While people of color make up only about 30% of the United States’ population they account for 60% of those imprisoned.
Most disturbingly for the millennial generation, this pipeline to prison starts in the schools. According to the Department of Education 96,000 students were arrested in schools and 242,000 students were referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, Black and Hispanic students made up more than 70% of the arrested or referred students.
In the face of this legacy of failed economic policy, a massive increase in the criminalization and incarceration of people of color, and an ever widening school to prison pipeline many in the millennial generation believe that the system is failing them. And unfortunately, they are correct.
The Duty of Fair Representation and the Responsibility to Protect and Serve Communities
In the aftermath of the killings of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner and the non-indictments of Darren Wilson, Timothy Loehmann, and Daniel Pantaleo, union officials representing police officers in St. Louis, Cleveland, and New York have spoken out with uncritical defenses of the officers involved in these killings. They have publicly rebuffed calls reforms in policing and politically attacked people and organizations calling for reforms. Police Unions in St. Louis and Cleveland demanded that the Rams and Browns franchises discipline players for speaking out against police violence and the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association banned New York City Mayor de Blasio from funerals for fallen police officers after the Mayor spoke out in favor of reforms in community policing.
As professional union staff, the members of USW Local 3657 fully understand the PBA’s responsibility to fairly represent members facing disciplinary action through the appropriate grievance and arbitration procedures. We support those unions in engaging in their contractual role of ensuring that officers are only disciplined with just cause. But we believe that the work of fairly representing officers who are accused of serious offenses belongs in the grievance and arbitration process outlined in the collective bargaining agreements and not in the public discourse.
We further believe that the police officers’ unions can adequately represent the interests of their members while at the same time hearing the hurt and outrage of the communities that they are sworn to serve. We believe that police officers’ unions around the country can play an important role in rebuilding trust between communities of color and police forces. We strongly encourage our sisters and brothers involved in police unions to take the lead in pushing for transformative change in our criminal justice system.
It is worth noting that not all police unions and police associations have taken adversarial approaches to policing reforms in the wake of the recent string of officer-involved killings. On a national level, the National Black Police Association has bravely spoken out on the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and in St. Louis the Ethical Society of Police has taken a strong stand in favor of reforms in their police forces. We commend the work of these organizations and we strongly encourage our sisters and brothers in the PBA and other police officers’ unions to follow this brave example and become a force for progressive transformative change.
Our Commitment to Action
The members of USW Local 3657 understand that actions speak louder than words and we are committed to taking meaningful action to push for transformative change in the criminal justice system and an end to police violence.
- We have mobilized to join local demonstrations expressing our outrage at the non-indictments of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantalo, and local demonstrations in support of the Justice for Jordan Miles Campaign and members of Local 3657 have traveled to Ferguson, MO to join young people in the streets demanding justice for Mike Brown.
- We are committed to fighting for justice and accountability in local cases involving police violence and mobilizing in support of the Justice for Leon Ford campaign.
- We are committed to supporting the We Change Pittsburgh coalition effort demanding transformative change in Pittsburgh’s law enforcement and criminal justice system. In addition to joining meetings and mobilizing for rallies in support of this coalition effort we commit to an initial donation of $500 to support the important work of this coalition effort.
- We will continue to support our Associate Member chapter, Fight Back Pittsburgh in their work to amplify community voices demanding transformative change in our police force and an end to police violence and racism.
- We will join and mobilize for the planned demonstration here in Pittsburgh on Martin Luther King Jr. Day demanding an end to police violence and racism.
In unconditional solidarity with the ongoing struggles to end police violence and racism and to build a more just society,
The members of USW Local 3657
Adopted on Thursday, December 18th, 2014