This Labor Day, Police and Teachers Unions Are Making a Bad Year Worse
Labor Day is a celebration of the labor movement and its representation of the interests of workers in American society. Unions have historically been a force for good as workers fought for better conditions. But 2020 has brought us a reality check about just how toxic organized labor—in the form of police and teachers unions—can be. These organizations aren’t solely responsible for the ongoing disaster that is this year, but they’ve done their best to make it worse.
On September 4, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which represents sergeants in the New York City Police Department, tweeted: “He we go America this is what a first class whore looks like RITCHIE TORRES. Passes laws to defund police, supports criminals, & now because he’s running for office he blames the police to protect what he voted for. Remember Little Ritchie? Meet LYING RITCHIE @RitchieTorres”
Later deleted, the semi-coherent and typo-ridden slam targeted New York City councilman and congressional candidate Ritchie Torres for his allegation that city cops were engaged in a “slowdown” to protest police reform efforts like the ones he supports. The tweet’s take-no-prisoners tone is an only slightly exaggerated variation on the usual police union responses to proposals for law enforcement limits and accountability.
New York City’s Police Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, opposes standardized penalties for police misconduct. In July, it joined in a lawsuit with unions representing firefighters and corrections officers to block the release to the public of records of police officers who have been disciplined.
The union representing New Jersey state troopers similarly sued to keep disciplinary records secret. San Francisco’s police union filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s right to revise its use-of-force policy. California police unions joined together to defeat a bill that would have barred officers guilty of serious misconduct from further police work.
None of this is unusual. “Over the past five years, as demands for reform have mounted in the aftermath of police violence in cities like Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and now Minneapolis, police unions have emerged as one of the most significant roadblocks to change,” The New York Times noted in June. “The greater the political pressure for reform, the more defiant the unions often are in resisting it.”
What is remarkable is that the examples above all came after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd and sparked protests calling for changes in the way police go about their business, especially in minority communities. In context, the unions’ response looks like even more of a raised middle finger to an angry public.
In the following months, many of those protests have turned violent. Maybe the riots would have happened anyway; you can’t cripple an economy and sideline much of the population with lockdown orders without provoking consequences. But police unions played a big role in bringing us to this point by resisting every effort to make law enforcement less confrontational and intrusive. And their continuing resistance to reform pours fuel on the fires burning in many American cities.
Teachers unions, too, bear respons
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