Richard Franklin, who is black, has been pulled over by police officers more times than he can count—even when his wife and children are with him, he told the convention audience July 19. "Do you have any guns or drugs in the car?" the officers will ask. Of course Franklin, president of the Birmingham (Ala.) AFT, does not.
So when these sorts of traffic stops turn into deadly shootings, as they did for Philando Castile, the impact for Franklin is personal. "We need to stop making excuses in this country when these things happen," he said, listing the tragedies: Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas. "It doesn't matter whether they're police officers or whether they're African-American males, we cannot stand for these senseless murders."
"It is fear that divides us," said Franklin, urging members to fight that fear. "We must have hope and faith, and we must not just sit back and not fight."
We also need activists like Rashad Robinson, who founded Color of Change, an online group on the frontlines protesting the violent deaths in the black community as well as voter suppression and restrictions on internet access.
Robinson contrasted zero-tolerance school discipline policies, applied to "kids who make mistakes and make some bad decisions as they're trying to figure themselves out, or cope with the un-copeable conditions in their lives," with the endless tolerance for "bankers who destroy our economy, employers who break commitments to employees, and politicians who advance long-disproven ideas." And he blamed mounting violence and discord on a failure to build alliances, address racism and curb corporate power. Robinson said innovation is key to imagining how to change the paradigm and see our way to a more just world.
"I believe that black folks and people of color are the solution," he said. "I challenge us all to imagine race as a way to win, not something to avoid. And to imagine the power of our unity—civil rights organizations and unions—as both possible and necessary to achieve."
[Virginia Myers/photo by Russ Curtis]