From that momentous day in 1968 when Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa stood with Martin Luther King in support of the Memphis garbage strikers, the Teamsters Union has not only stood with Black leaders, but has fought to be all inclusive, making equal pay for equal work, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, a cornerstone of what we are about. This is where Teamsters gain their strength.
What happened to George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police is murder, and that is what the officer was belatedly charged with. It boggles my mind, however, that the other officers who participated in that murder of this Black man who was lying face down on the asphalt, handcuffed, trying to breathe with a knee on his neck for nearly nine-minutes, have not been arrested for the same crime. These officers, who have a sworn duty to “protect and defend,” didn’t attempt to stop it, in fact, they helped hold Mr. Floyd down until life itself drained from his body; yes, they participated in the act and should be held accountable.
Similarly, the shooting of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year in Georgia, who was hunted down by white supremacists and murdered for no reason at all — except that he was Black — is just one more incident that feeds my outrage and my disgust. For far too long, injustices against Black men, especially young Black men, have been tolerated and condoned by our society. By not speaking out against it, we are part of it, exactly the same as those officers who stood by and did nothing to stop the murder of George Floyd. Leaders of organizations like my union, other unions, churches, corporations, cities, counties, states, have to speak up and start to actually work to make sure this type of senseless aggression against our fellow Americans stops and never happens again.
Minnesota and, specifically. Minneapolis, hold a special place in the history of our great Union, a place where Teamsters fought in the streets against inequality and injustice. The anti-union forces at that time screamed that we were violent communists made up of out-of-state radicals, immigrants and criminals; unfortunately, in many cases, the Teamster message was lost among the hysteria created by employers, politicians, police, newspapers and radio; but we prevailed .
Similarly, today, images of people taking to the streets and the subsequent rioting and destruction in Minneapolis and elsewhere should not be allowed to overshadow the fundamental reason why the frustration of the Black community is boiling over; if you allow yourself to be distracted, you will be ignoring the facts and the context. Many of the buildings and storefronts that have been vandalized, looted and/or set afire are symbols of those who have, historically, done little or nothing to stop the violence against an entire group of Americans, and, in many cases, have refused to provide decent wages, benefits and working conditions for the community. At some point, reason and rational thinking cannot be expected when one’s very being and life are constantly under threat. Obviously, I cannot condone violence; however, I can understand it. I can feel it. I can empathize with the frustration of generations of injustice and inequity, but I won’t let the media coverage of what is happening cloud the reason why it is happening. You shouldn’t either.
I pledge that I will do everything in my power and authority to make sure Teamsters everywhere understand that an injustice to our Black sisters and brothers is an injustice to all of us, and I will also work to make sure that these insane attacks against OUR sisters and brothers stops once and for all. This is the United States of America, what are we doing?