The UAW Condemns the Killing of George Floyd

Rory L. Gamble, president of the United Autoworkers union, released a statement through the union on Friday, adding his voice to the chorus of voices outraged by the murder of George Floyd.

Police officers killed Floyd, kneeling on him for nearly nine minutes, despite repeated pleas during which he said he couldn’t breathe.

“We are watching out for the safety of our fellow Americans and will do what is necessary to keep each other safe,” wrote Gamble on May 28. “And we will hold those accountable, regardless of who they are, if they put any of us in peril.”

Floyd’s death sparked waves of protests across American over the weekend. Following the protests, the president issued threats of death against the protesters, quoting white supremacists, via Twitter.

According to Gamble, there’s a word for holding those who threaten Americans to account and it is “solidarity.”

We, too, would like to see those who threaten the lives of Americans brought to justice. There will be those who say that this is not a political blog, but we feel it’s important to remember that nothing is strictly a-political and that cars, specifically are political. They are right, however, that we aren’t an authority on the topic. Here, instead, are the writings of those much more educated on the topic than we.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matters movement takes the work of past civil rights movements and reinterprets it as a human rights issue, argues NYU’s Frank Leon Roberts through the ACLU. Black Lives Matter focuses less on changing specific laws, as previous freedom fighters did, and instead fights for a “fundamental reordering of society, wherein Black lives are free from systematic dehumanization.”

The distinction between racism and systematic dehumanization is an important one here. Although simple racism is problematic, these protests are more about how “ideas of white superiority are captured in everyday thinking at a systems level: taking in the big picture of how society operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions.

Systemic racism is not about overt acts of racism, which are too unpleasant for polite society, and is more about quiet acts of racism that inform decisions we all make. Decisions, like those made by hiring managers around the country, who hire people with more Anglo-Saxon names, or like those made by prosecutors around the country who consistently hand out harsher penalties to black people.

That, says Roberts, has been one of the targets of BLM. Since 2013, organizers have worked to vote out high-profile corrupt prosecutors.

In Chicago, the labor of groups such as BYP100 and Assata’s Daughters, among others, led Anita Alvarez — who had inexplicably failed to charge police officers who shot at least 68 people to death — to lose her re-election bid for Cook County prosecutor. And in Florida, groups like The Dream Defenders and others helped end Angela Corey’s reign as a state attorney. Corey remains infamous for failing to convict Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman while prosecuting Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who didn’t hurt anyone when firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband. 

Since 2016, projects that fall under the BLM umbrella have included the Black Census Project, the largest survey focusing on black people in the US in more than 150 years; Dignity and Power Now, which supports incarcerated people; and more.

Demonstrations

Why, then, besides the obvious, is there a need for such wide-scale protests? The ACLU argues that all the clatter of the Trump presidency has taken the press’s attention away from anything else. It’s also worth remembering that some of the most attention-grabbing protests in recent years, like Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem, have led to strong reactions and cost the quarterback his job. Over the weekend, Kaepernick tweeted that “when civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction,” echoing the sentiments of many who felt that property was being valued more than people. It’s easy to see why, when the president writes that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

It’s also worth mentioning here that there are numerous examples of protestors working to protect businesses, organizers are calling for an end to looting, and that there are wide reports of police turning their weapons on peaceful protestors, the media, and bystanders. It’s also important to consider the historical context of these demonstrations. Despite organizing specifically non-violent protests, and being quoted often by people wishing for less tumultuous demonstrations, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated for his actions.

Although the militarization of the police force has been long in the making, and although this threatens everyone’s freedom, systemic racism has and continues to specifically target black people. In 2017, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that although “it is often said that Trump has no real ideology, [that] is not true—his ideology is white supremacy.”

Coates argues that Trump rode a wave of specific and reactionary racism. Although past racism had been happy to minimize the accomplishments of black people with fictional straw men, Trump and his “Make America Great Again” campaign found the Obama administration a useful tool for stoking racist fears.

“Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own.” Coates also quotes Edison Research exit polls that found that Trump won white voters making less than $50,000 by 20 points, white voters making $50,000-$99,999 by 28 points, and white voters making $100,000 or more by 14 points.

“This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker.”

All Lives Should Matter, But Police Murders Show They Don’t

The same white fragility that Trump rode to the White House is what makes the slogan “all lives matter” so wrong-headed. “Black Lives Matter is not a term of confrontation or an exclusionary demand,” writes Rachel Elizabeth Gargle, for Harper’s Bazaar. It is instead “a rallying cry for a shift in statistical numbers that show that people who are black are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed, compared to white individuals.”

To say that “black lives matter” is not to say that white ones don’t, it is to recognize that black lives do not matter equally in the eyes of the law and to decry that injustice.

Black lives did not matter when they were inhumanely transported like livestock from Africa. Black lives did not matter when they were lynched by the hundreds at the hands of the KKK. Black lives did not matter when they were attacked by dogs as they protested for equal rights.

“All lives matter” is arguing past the point and not interacting with the actual debate that is happening. Some may feel that this is a failure to understand, but it is proposed most often by those who are actively looking for ways not to interact with the realities of violence against black people.

People asking why protestors can’t protest peacefully are similarly failing to engage with the realities of the situation. Yes, peaceful protest is good, but peaceful protests have been ongoing for four hundred years and they have been met with hideous violence, systemic and specific, all along.

That’s why we would encourage you to donate to a number of causes supported the demonstrations going on around the country. First, of course, there is the Black Lives Matter organization; there’s the Bail Project, which seeks to combat economic and racial disparities in the bail system; the Black Visions Collective, which fights for healing justice and transformative justice, Reclaim the Block; and many more.