Unions and Eric Garner: Both sides of the fence

Stephon Johnson | 12/11/2014, 3:56 p.m.
When the news of NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo’s non-indictment in the chokehold death of Eric Garner broke, it sent ...
Protestors for Eric Garner take over Target store. Christopher Griffin

When the news of NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo’s non-indictment in the chokehold death of Eric Garner broke, it sent shockwaves around the country for a variety of reasons, with union leaders among the many voices poking through the noise.

“This deeply disappointing grand jury decision has caused new grief for people of conscience around New York, the country and the globe,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing, many have called for the implementation of police body cameras, which could be an important step towards greater accountability. However, in this case, the chokehold that led to Eric Garner’s death was there on video for the world to see, which makes the grand jury decision all the more hurtful and difficult to understand.”

Hector Figueroa, president of SEIU 32BJ, echoed similar sentiments in a statement.

“There is a serious problem in this city and across the country,” said Figueroa. “32BJ is committed to acting peacefully with like-minded organizations, clergy and others dedicated to eradicating the deep-seeded scourge of racism and institutional bias that undermines whole communities and hurts all of us. We know racial justice is a worker issue, that racial equality is a union goal: We cannot win at work when race divides us, nor does fairness truly exist when some of us are profiled at home, targeted on the streets and treated unequally in the courts.

“Working people will be more powerful when we are further united in all our struggles.”

Meanwhile, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch stood by the grand jury decision and said that Garner was complicit in his own death.

“While we are pleased with the grand jury’s decision, there are no winners here today,” said Lynch in a statement. “There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with. It is clear that the officer’s intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the takedown technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused. No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being’s life, and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”

Lynch added that he felt New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was throwing cops under the bus.

Police unions outside of the tristate area have weighed in on the Garner killing in their own way.

In an interview with local news station WPLG Channel 10, Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa said that he believes the cops involved in Garner’s death will be indicted for federal civil rights violations. The very next morning, Union President Javier Ortiz released a letter stating that Orosa’s comments have “no basis and that they do not reflect the views of the Miami police force at large.”

Amid the racial tensions of the case, along with the Darren Wilson verdict in Ferguson, Mo., regarding the shooting of Michael Brown, Gresham wanted to remind people that it’s not only race relations that are on display at the moment.

“This is not a Black issue or a Brown issue or a white issue, this is a human rights issue,” said Gresham in a statement. “It is a moral imperative that all lives have the same value in the eyes of the justice system and that the laws of our country are enforced equally in every community. Otherwise, it sends a demoralizing signal to young people of color that their lives have less worth, and they will lose hope and disengage.”