The brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to historic protests and demonstrations across much of the state and country.
In New York City, there have been multiple and daily events highlighting the calls for justice not just for Floyd, but also for the many victims of police and racial violence, including Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Lousiville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging in Georgia.
“What happened in Minnesota is criminal and we join with unions across the country in calling for charges to be brought against the officers involved in the senseless murder of George Floyd,” CSEA President Mary Sullivan said in a statement shortly after Floyd’s murder. “We call on all union members to demand justice for people of color throughout our nation.
In the labor movement, we stand up and speak out for human rights, dignity and social/racial justice. In this case, it certainly appears that Mr. Floyd was denied all three. We cannot and will not turn a blind eye.
We stand in unity with our brothers and sisters in the Black community, as we affirm that racism has no place in our workplaces, our streets or our country. We call on our elected leaders to stand with us and demand action be taken and justice be served.”
In the weeks following Floyd’s murder, CSEA members have joined the growing number of voices that are demanding justice.
“As a union, we have an obligation to stand up and make our collective voices heard for causes we believe in,” Sullivan said. “Especially when those causes involve bringing together the collective voices of people who lack power but seek equality and change. That’s what the union movement is all about… bringing individuals together to build power.”
CSEA Metropolitan Region members and staff have also participated in a number of marches and events, including on Juneteenth.
“As a Black woman, my truth is that systematic racism exists,” said New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (New York City) Unit President Dawn Destine. “Watching a Black man killed on television while calling for his mama affected the core of my soul. It is time that America face this issue and begin to earnestly address it and not just in words; presenting myself for the cause of equal rights and freedom for Black people is who I am. It is time to remove every remnant of racism that exists in our world.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. On June 19, 1865, a Union Army general announced the federal orders in Texas even though President Abraham Lincoln had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other Confederate states almost two and half years earlier.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had issued an executive order marking Juneteenth an official holiday for state employees. While the executive order only applies to state employees, some municipalities also officially recognized the holiday. The governor said he would advance legislation proposing it as an official state holiday for all workers in time for next year’s celebration.
“It’s important to recognize and honor Black history as an integral part of U.S. history. Juneteenth should be considered as equal to Independence Day, since it commemorates the moment that Black Americans achieved the status of free citizens of this country,” said CSEA Contract Administration Specialist Neil Kelly. “I was proud to march as an ally this Juneteenth along with the Black Lives Matter movement to continue to highlight the injustices that continue to plague minority communities in this country.”
For CSEA Statewide Executive Vice President Denise Berkley, an African American trailblazing labor leader, the historic significance of this moment is not lost on her.
“Recognizing that Black Lives Matter and Black history matters is long overdue,” said Berkley. “I am glad the governor signed this executive order, but I will be overjoyed when more people learn why Juneteenth is so significant and not just for Black people. It should become a national holiday observed throughout the entire United States.”
As to why all unionists should support the Black Lives Matter movement, CSEA Guild for Exceptional Children Local President Bonnie Diaz, who has joined several marches, simply stated: “I support Black Lives Matter because if we don’t, who will? Be the change you want to see,” she said. “If we wait for someone else to step up, it’ll be one less voice heard. We need to remember that we are the people and we have the power.”
— David Galarza