By PRESS ASSOCIATES UNION NEWS SERVICE and the LABOR TRIBUNE
The overwhelming reaction to the Minneapolis jury’s conviction of former city police officer Derek Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd is that it was long overdue, but only a first step toward justice.
Union leaders and elected officials weighed in on the verdict and how the case has once again exposed the systemic racism that continues to persist in U.S. society.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said the fight for racial justice is just beginning.
“We can’t stop here,” Biden said. “‘I can’t breathe.’ Those were George Floyd’s last words. We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can’t turn away.”
Harris, whose parents were Black and South Asian, said continuing racism is holding the country back. “It is not just a Black America problem or a people of color problem. It is a problem for every American. It is holding our nation back from reaching our full potential. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice.”
‘A PROFOUND INJUSTICE’
“This verdict affirms that the murder of George Floyd was a profound injustice, as well as a devastating blow to a family and a community,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “Today we remember George Floyd’s life, pray for his family and all who loved him, and honor his memory by rededicating ourselves to the work of achieving racial justice and economic equity for all.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week announced the Justice Department was opening an investigation into systemic racism in the Minneapolis Police Department.
LABOR MOVEMENT HAS A ROLE TO PLAY
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who must tread a fine line in his 12-million-member organization because it includes a small federation of police unions and law enforcement segments in larger unions – such as AFSCME and AFGE – hewed to Biden’s standard.
“We are relieved the jury delivered justice for George Floyd’s family. Floyd’s murder shocked our collective conscience and sparked a movement for change that has inspired America over the past year,” said Trumka.
“While this verdict is welcome news, the work of dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy is just beginning. As members of our communities and representatives of union public safety professionals, the Labor Movement has a unique role to play in changing this culture of policing.”
Trumka said the Federation has an internal commission working on the issue.
“We are hard at work developing a public safety blueprint for change, and we look forward to using our experience and influence to heal this nation through liberty and justice for all,” he said.
“We have so much work ahead of us in order to build a more just state and nation for everyone,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said. “Black Minnesotans continue to face police violence. George Floyd and Daunte Wright should still be alive today,” he added, referring to Wright, 20, who was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop not far from where Chauvin was being tried.
“As Minnesotans, we must continue working so that whether we’re Black or White, Latino or Asian, Indigenous or newcomer, our families are safe, our voices are heard, and our rights are respected.”
UNITED AUTO WORKERS
“We have come a long way in this nation, but clearly given recent events, not far enough,” said United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, the union’s first-ever Black president.
“As a father and grandfather, I live every day with the idea my family could be treated unjustly because of the color of their skin — regardless of the content of their character. Sadly, it is our reality, the reality of all families of color in America. We must as a nation heal and grow from today’s outcome. We must focus on what unites us, not what divides us. We must strive to broaden our view – to see the world not just through our own eyes, but through the lenses of our brothers and sisters. The true test will be how we move forward.”
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS
“This is an important inflection point for police accountability and making our communities safe spaces for every human being,” said Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher.
“Every Black person in this country has a right to live, a right to breathe and a right to be a part of their community without fear of violence and senseless attack simply for the color of their skin. The urgent matter before us is to dismantle the systemic racism that plagues us — to make the fight for anti-racism and equity a cornerstone of everything we do.”
“Finally, some measure of justice has been done in the tragic killing of George Floyd,” said Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“While no court can bring him back to life and fill the hole left in the hearts of his friends and family, today’s verdict brings some measure of peace for all Americans who were shocked to our cores by the video of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd in plain daylight.
“It’s gratifying to see today that a central principle of American justice has been upheld. No one is above the law. It is my fervent hope that today’s verdict can be a catalyst for positive change, uniting us all in the pursuit of real, systemic criminal justice and policing reforms with broad support that can help us build a future where these killings stop happening.”
“Accountability for a single act of brutality does not solve the underlying crisis – deeply entrenched, structural, systemic racism that continues to poison every American institution and every aspect of American life,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “To address that problem, there is a lot of very difficult work ahead, work AFSCME is committed to leading.”
“Talking about race and policing can be controversial, but we must address this problem. This verdict underscores the need to implement better reforms against police brutality and systemic racism and ensures justice for victims. Our law enforcement should protect our safety and treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Amalgamated Transit Union President John Costa said. “The ATU remains committed to working towards these reforms and fighting for racial and economic justice for all.”
“We are heartened to see the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial deliver a guilty verdict, but there is still more work to be done,” said Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1.
“Convicting Jason Van Dyke (the former Chicago police officer convicted in the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald) didn’t prevent an officer from killing Adam Toledo, and convicting Derek Chauvin today is bare-minimum accountability. Taking one bad officer off the streets still leaves in place a system that brutalizes Black and Brown people with impunity. George Floyd should still be alive today.
“SEIU Local 1 members across the Midwest will continue to fight to reimagine public safety and break down an unfair justice system that provides anything but. In this moment, we hope this verdict brings some measure of comfort to George Floyd’s loved ones.”