The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. frequently reminded us that the destinies of all people are inextricable intertwined. None are free as long as others are oppressed.
Two recent incidents—one happy, the other horrific—dramatically brought this home.
The first was President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, which will bring millions out of the shadows, free of the fear of deportation and the tearing apart of their families.
This represents a major victory for all, especially for working people and unionists. There is a deep connection between civil rights, workers’ rights and immigrant rights. Wherever you have a group of workers who are being exploited and taken advantage of, who live in fear and have no rights, that drags down the standards for all working people.
The action affects many 1199ers, particularly our hard-working homecare workers, who selflessly care for our seniors and infirmed yet remain underappreciated and poorly compensated.
Deportation relief will mean that our broken immigration system will finally be put on the road to justice, but we must remain mindful that there are those who would rather preserve the broken system than permanently fix it.
In fact, Obama took executive action precisely because an intransigent Congress would rather tie up the legislative body and embarrass the president rather than perform its duties.
We strongly support the president, and we will continue to stand with the immigrant rights movement and all undocumented workers until they are are able to share in the American dream.
The other recent event also is about the American dream—a dream too long deferred.
“In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement,” Obama said after learning of the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who, on Aug. 9 shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.
The president continued, “In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”
More than objects of fear, Black youth in too many of our nation’s communities are viewed as enemy combatants, not only to be feared, but also to be eliminated. In this context, we were angered and outraged by the decision but, sadly, not surprised.
Residents of Ferguson had pleaded for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to replace the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, with a special prosecutor. McCulloch was widely viewed as hostile to the Black community and protective of police. Throughout his tenure, he has failed to indict any law enforcement officer.
Instead of conducting an investigation and recommending charges to the grand jury, McCulloch had the jury wade through months of almost 5,000 pages of testimony and determine probable cause for the killing. His announcement of the decision sounded more like a victory speech and than a legal ruling.
We join the call of Brown’s parents to channel our “frustration in ways that will make a positive change.” We also support ongoing nonviolent demonstrations in St. Louis and across the nation, but we are not surprised about the rioting. As King said just weeks before he was assassinated, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. … And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
The people of Ferguson are crying out against a history of abuses, including conclusive evidence that many St. Louis municipalities systematically target African-Americans, particularly young males.
An October report by ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning independent news organization, found that young Black males were 21 times more likely to be shot dead than young white males. The list of our dead youth is long, and most victims are remembered only by those who feel the pain of the loss and the enduring emptiness. In Cleveland, the parents of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was killed by a rookie policeman two days before the Ferguson decision, faced an empty place at their Thanksgiving dinner.
So did the family of Akai Gurley, the 28-year-old African-American who was shot dead also last month on the stairway of his NYCHA building by a rookie police officer.
We call on the Department of Justice to prioritize the federal investigation into Brown’s killing. We call on local, state and federal government to make much-needed systemic changes. The first change must be finding alternatives to the use of deadly force. As the renowned poet Langston Hughes reminded us about all African-Americans, “We, too, are America.”