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Oakland May Day march to protest police killings
Date 15/04/30/02:11

Oakland May Day march to protest police killings
By Jack Heyman

Black communities are seething over the epidemic of police killings of unarmed black men — in Baltimore, Charleston, Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York, Tulsa and elsewhere. Every day the newspapers, TV and Internet show appalling images of police brutality. The mass incarceration and high unemployment of blacks and the sharp disparity of wealth throughout society are intensified by the militarization of the police. Policies such as “zero tolerance” and “stop and frisk” have spiked an increase in the killing of blacks and Latinos.

The San Francisco longshore union, ILWU Local 10, has announced that its members will stop work in Bay Area ports on May 1, International Workers Day, to protest police killings. It also has called for a march Friday from the Port of Oakland to Oakland City Hall to protest “the recent escalation in police brutality throughout the U.S. that has resulted in the needless killing of innocent and unarmed minorities.”

There is a palpable feeling of outrage, but also a feeling of powerlessness to stop these killings. If labor brought its power into play, then this could enable African Americans, Latinos and immigrants to more effectively defend themselves against this police onslaught. It also could be the necessary impetus to rebuild an atrophied labor movement. ILWU is calling on other unions to join the protest.

The union has a long history in taking a stand on social justice. It was police killings of maritime strikers in 1934 that provoked the militant San Francisco general strike. In 2010, Bay Area ports were shut down to demand justice for the family of Oscar Grant, a young black man killed by BART police. More recently, those killed by police include young Raheim Brown, 20, killed in 2011, Jeremiah Moore, an autistic young man killed in 2012, and Richard “Pedie” Perez III, 24, killed in 2014. Both Moore and Perez have close family members in Local 10.

When police in North Charleston, S.C., killed Walter Scott, a black worker, the long-shore union members there organized protests. ILWU Local 10, which has close relations with the Charleston union, responded with its call to stop work and march on May Day. The South Carolina AFL-CIO commended the ILWU local for its “courageous actions of solidarity with the families” and also is calling for May 1 “actions to protest the continuing unjustifiable killings.”

Fifty years ago, the black ghettos of America imploded in flames. Police and the National Guard responded like an occupying force. While the civil rights movement formally ended Jim Crow racial discrimination, it failed to resolve the problem of mass unemployment in the inner cities. As Michelle Alexander pointed out in her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” there are today more black men shackled in the labyrinth of the criminal justice system than were in bondage under slavery. After the Civil War, two blacks were lynched a week in the South. Today, nearly daily news reports of police killings stand in shocking comparison to those lynchings.

Protesters are calling the plethora of killings “police terror.” It’s not just local police, however. President Obama’s Department of Justice has backed police in every excessive-force case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Police killings are a systemic problem, and the unions must be in the forefront of fighting it.

On May Day in 2008, the ILWU shut down every port on the West Coast to oppose the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Today we must act to stop the plague of police violence at home. Join us.

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