The more than 700 largely non-violent protests across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd and other unarmed black women and men have sparked a long overdue debate about the role of the police in our country. What has also not been adequately addressed is another target of police repression: workers, especially those who work for decent wages and decent working conditions.
Thirty years ago, on June 15, 1990, members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) violently beat a peaceful group of Latina / o caretakers in Century City who were marching for better wages and working conditions. As a result, dozens of caretakers were hospitalized, one woman miscarried, and dozens more were arrested and detained. According to numerous reports, this was a "police riot". The LAPD paid a multi-million dollar severance payment in response to the injured caretaker's complaint.
The Century City police attack occurred a year before a more popular LAPD abuse case involving motorist Rodney King. Millions watched the television video in which the police beat Rodney King when he was lying on the floor. When the police were acquitted by a predominantly white jury, the 1992 ruling triggered the riots in Los Angeles.
The beating of the caretaker by the LAPD is not an isolated case of police oppression of workers. In California’s agricultural fields, farm owners have brought in law enforcement officers to attack and hit striking farm workers. During the drywall strike of 1992, which paralyzed the construction industry in five districts of southern California, police officers harassed and arrested the striking workers. Many have been detained for unrelated issues such as unpaid parking tickets or their undocumented immigration status. During the march on May 1, 2007, LA police used rubber bullets and tear gas to peacefully protest immigrants. Families with young children and journalists were among the injured.
The role of police repression against workers has a long and dirty history. The first state police were established in Pennsylvania at the request of factory owners who wanted to suppress striking miners and steel workers. And for decades, private security forces known as "Pinkertons" infiltrated unions and worked notoriously hand in hand with law enforcement agencies to quell strikes and attack workers.
In the 1930s, law enforcement officers and the National Guard killed hundreds of workers in labor disputes. In a publicly known incident known as the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, police opened fire on striking steel workers who were peacefully marching in Chicago. Dozens were shot, more than a hundred were beaten, and ten workers were killed by the police.
In the 1960s, law enforcement officials brutally suppressed peaceful protests during the struggle for freedom in the south. Hundreds were beaten, many killed and thousands more arrested. Congressman John Lewis almost died after law enforcement officers violently hit Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Fittingly, the bridge was named after a Confederate general. In 1968 the police attacked one of Dr. King again violently led the march in support of the strike by the Memphis Sanitation Workers. He was murdered a few days later when he supported the sanitary workers.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "The working hater and bait is practically always a two-headed creature that spits out anti-negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth." Another two-headed creature lives in the White House today. Donald Trump has made clear his hostility to people with color and work.
On June 1, 2020, Trump directed the police to attack a thousand peaceful demonstrators outside the White House. The federal police used rubber bullets and tear gas to pay off the amount so that Trump could hold a staged press event in front of a church. Trump was holding a Bible upside down in one hand as he directed violence against people who protested peacefully with the other. The church is in the same block as the AFL-CIO's national headquarters. Donald Trump's message was clear. He will not hesitate to mobilize law enforcement to attack color communities and workers alike.
Over the years, this country has seen a huge increase in police budgets. For example, in Los Angeles, before the proposed cut, the LAPD had an annual budget of $ 1.8 billion, or 17% of the city budget. The United States has a higher rate of detention than any other country in the world with 2.3 million people in prison. Blacks are five times more likely to be in prison than whites.
Violence against women is also a common problem in our society. Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are all forms of violence against women. Sexual violence, racist violence and violence against workers are interrelated and reflect a violent culture that maintains and defends the status quo.
We need massive investments in communities where working families and colored people live. We need to fund public education, healthcare, housing, transportation, and mental health and drug abuse services. This will ensure the long-term security of our communities. The system of violence and oppression promoted by Donald Trump and law enforcement agencies will never guarantee equality, freedom and justice for all, nor will it be Dr. Promote King's adopted "beloved community".
Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center. The two have been teaching a non-violent course at UCLA for eighteen years.
Rev. James Lawson Jr. is a nationally known teacher and philosopher for nonviolence. He was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. James Lawson Jr. was a leader of the civil rights movement. Rev. Lawson played a historical role in integrating the philosophy of nonviolence into the civil rights movement and was a good friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Lawson was a leader of the sanitary strike in Memphis and was asked to Dr. King is said to come to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. After moving to Los Angeles in the 1970s, Rev. Lawson was pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. His influence on social justice movements extended from Tennessee to California, where he played an important role in transforming the labor movement in Los Angeles. For the past 16 years, Rev. Lawson has taught a course on nonviolence at UCLA in collaboration with the Labor Studies program.