Union leaders issued statements following last night’s release of the Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black youth Michael Brown in Ferguson more than three months ago.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry: “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. The Department of Justice must prioritize the investigation into the murder of Michael Brown. SEIU members stand with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson and across the nation in expressing our grief and frustration.”
The three-day protest against police brutality and mass incarceration, called Ferguson October, brought out hundreds of union members protesting for racial justice, including an array of SEIU branches such as the Chicago Teachers Union and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also released a statement about the decision. Trumka had already given a stirring speech in September at the 2014 Missouri CIO Convention in St. Louis. “ [S]ome people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved in all that has happened since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And I want to answer that question directly. How can we not be involved? Union members’ lives have been profoundly damaged in ways that cannot be fixed. Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother who works in a grocery store, is our sister, an AFL-CIO union member and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, is a union member too and he is our brother. Our brother killed our sister’s son and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is. So I say again, how can we not be involved? This tragedy and all the complexities of race and racism are a big part of our very big family as they always have been. A union is like a home. And in any home good and bad things happen. We have to deal with all of them, honestly.”
Trumka’s speech is all the more significant when considering the fact that the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Michael Brown’s killer, as Douglas Williams, labor organizer and scholar told Colorlines. “When someone with the gravitas of Richard Trumka stands up and gives such an unequivocal endorsement of racial equality and working-class power, it is a signal that the FOP are the people who are out of line.”