Eight Minutes and Forty Six Seconds-Collectively Bargained
by Tsuhai Nzinga
The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 sparked many a journalist to pick up their pens. The articles were numerous, thoughtful, well researched and, at times, brutally honest. Among the spate of articles written in that wake were calls to look at police unions. On Friday, March 5th, author Heather Cox Richardson’s daily briefing talked about the Amazon plant whose employees were voting on unionization and how President Biden supported the effort. Biden didn’t mention police unions, though support for one union is support for all unions.
In the book Our Enemies in Blue, Kristian Williams dedicated an entire chapter to the history of the corporate use of police to break up unions and engage in strike busting, almost always violently. At the same time, corporations were also calling on the Ku Klux Klan to perform these same duties. Stetson Kennedy, a white man who joined the KKK in the 1940s in order to bring the terrorist organization down from the inside, wrote “As I rose in the ranks of the Klan hierarchy, I soon discovered that the organization’s chief activity was union-busting…Whenever industrial management wanted a union organizational drive or a strike broken, the Klan’s local Exalted Cyclops or the Grand Dragon…would be called in to name his price…[The Cyclops or Dragon would] then call upon…the rank-and-file…,urging them to ‘drive out the n****r-loving red kike organizer.’”
The murder of George Floyd sparked more than calls for equality under the law though. There were calls to defund the police, even calls to abolish the police. After George Floyd’s murder, we learned of the deaths of Ahmad Arbury and Breonna Taylor. On June 13th, another unarmed Black man, Rayshard Brooks was killed, shot in the back while running away during a DUI stop. Only in the case of the officer who shot Rayshard was any immediate action taken. No arrests had been made in Ahmad’s or Breonna’s murders. Calls for the arrest of George Floyd’s murderer were loud, though the officers involved were first placed on administrative leave. The details of the murders of Ahmad and Breonna were chilling to say the least. Civil Rights and Equality Under the Law Activist Shawn King launched an offensive to have these cases investigated. Why was no one arrested, he asked? Why have there been no charges? The answers were as plain and routine as “no probable cause,” “no intent,” and “in the line of duty.” The officers involved in the murder of George Floyd were eventually removed from the force and charged. The officers who murdered Breonna Taylor were finally charged, just not with murder. The killers of Ahmad Arbury…well the shooter was a retired officer and a friend of the DA, his accomplices were his neighbors; they were eventually charged with murder.
And as all of this news trickled out, a lot of us questioned ‘How is this even a thing?’ But even as we asked that question we knew the answer—white supremacy. And that’s what we focused on. At least I did.
But numerous journalists walked their own path and talked about police unions. Police unions are powerful. They have collective bargaining rights. Just like other unions. But they collectively bargain not only for better wages and healthcare benefits, they bargain for “safe” working conditions. And what do “safe” working conditions look like to a cop.
Eight minutes and forty six seconds.
That’s what collective bargaining looks like in a police union.
It looks like the right to kill.
In a June 18, 2020 article in the New Yorker Magazine, journalist Steven Greenhouse quotes professor and researcher Rob Gillezeau saying “It looks like collective bargaining rights are being used to protect the ability of officers to discriminate in the disproportionate use of force against the non-white population.” Gillezeau was also quoted in a Vox article saying that he told NPR “We have found that after officers gained access to collective bargaining rights that there was a substantial increase in killings of civilians…”
This is among the reasons that this site’s hostess and blogger, Dr. Cynthia Alease Smith calls police “Race Soldiers.” These race soldiers, like any army, must have leaders and while there are police chiefs and commissioners in the hierarchy, there are police unions that rank even higher. The union bosses do the collective bargaining. And in that bargaining, union bosses demand certain protections that they say help police officers do their jobs ‘safely.’ And again, doing the job of an officer ‘safely’ looks like eight minutes and forty six seconds.
Eight minutes and forty six seconds of “collective bargaining” by union bosses who demand that officers not be questioned for 24-48 hours after an alleged incident. Eight minutes of forty six seconds of “collective bargaining” by union bosses who demand arbitration, calling it “due process” before an officer can be removed from the force. Eight minutes and forty six seconds of “collective bargaining” by union bosses who demand that all incidents of alleged excessive use of force, officer misconduct and use of deadly force be kept secret.
When George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin and the other three officers were fired, Minnesota union boss Bob Kroll said they had been fired “without due process,” and had intended to launch a fight to have them reinstated. Fortunately, he took no such action and that trial is now underway. But trials such as this are rare indeed. Even charging officers with any kind of crime is rare. And we have police unions and eight minutes and forty six seconds of collective bargaining to thank for that.
Collective bargaining and unions are not new. The history can be traced back to the antebellum period when, in 1768, the first recorded strike occurred in New York. Police unions, however, were illegal, even though officers engaged in strikes. One such police strike occurred in Boston in 1919. It did not go well for the officers. The Commissioner fired 1,100 officers and hired a new force of 1,574 police officers with higher pay and more vacation days. Massachusetts Governor Coolidge supported the actions of the commissioner saying, "There is no right to strike against the public safety, anywhere, anytime.” This hard line against police unionization would hold true for several decades; though police officers would continue their efforts to unionize.
Growing up alongside of police unionization efforts was the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan became a national, organized force in the effort to uphold white supremacy. Stetson Kennedy notes that in 1915 the Klan was reestablished and that by 1924 had “succeeded in mobilizing 8,904,871 members…and was active in all 48 states of the USA, as well as in Canada.” Quoting a leaflet penned by a Klan wizard, Kennedy points out that “Every Klansman has unqualifiedly affirmed that he will faithfully strive to maintain forever the God-given supremacy of the white race.” A cursory history of the Klan bears this sentiment consistently. Even in 2017, when the unmasked supremists marched in Charlottesville, VA, one of the chants was “Jews will not replace us,” a sentiment that has been held by the Klan since its inception. The Equal Justice Initiative has documented more than 4,000 terror lynchings by the KKK, many of which have post card mementos or graphic newspaper photos showing law enforcement officers prominently participating. According to Kennedy, “Other than farmers, police officers constitute the largest single occupational group among the KKK’s membership.” As documented by Kennedy, there was a branch of the KKK called the Kavaliers, “the designation given…for the Klan’s ‘Military Department,’ or flog squad.” Within the “flog squad,” police officers played a prominent role. Kennedy had the occasion to observe a ceremony in which an officer, “known as ‘Itchy Trigger-Finger’ Nash” was given a commendation by the Grand Dragon “for killing his 13th Negro ‘in line of duty.’”
The Klan’s size and prominence in the community was recognized by every state, where each chapter was chartered, “characterize[ing] itself as a ‘non-profit, fraternal, benevolent’ organization…”
White supremacy, believed to be God-given, permeates every aspect of society; however the violence of white supremacy finds its monopoly in today’s police force. It only looks different because of the uniforms and guns. Prior to this era’s race soldier lynchings, the KKK held that monopoly. But even then, police were part of the KKK terrorization. And while police officers were members of the so-called invisible empire, they were also fighting for the right to unionize.
State resistance to police unionization finally gave way beginning “in the 1950s and 60s when police unions first won widespread recognition and collective bargaining rights…” It was 1962 when the Federal government legalized collective bargaining…for public employee unions—including police unions.” With collective bargaining rights, police officer KKK members took off their masks and became part of the legitimate labor union. The KKK’s chapters—those “non-profit, fraternal, benevolent organizations” became the police unions in the form of Fraternal Orders of Police or FOPs; and Police Benevolent Associations or PBAs; and many such other union names. The invisible empire was now visible, legal and powerful. And the Kavaliers traded their masks for the uniform. Stetson Kennedy remarked that “It is common knowledge that the present uniforms worn by the New Jersey State police are modeled after those originally worn by the KKK’s Kavaliers, a motor-cycle mounted squad which for years specialized in mob violence against minorities in that state.”
Keeping that in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers’ Federation of Minneapolis, was accused of “wearing a motor-cycle jacket with a “White Power” patch. Kroll of course denied it saying he was merely a “member of the City Heat motorcycle club…”
It clearly can be of no wonder that the response of police in riot gear to Black Lives Matter contrasts so sharply to the limited police response on January 6th. White supremacy IS the power. It IS religious and, today, it is also the KKK hiding in plain sight as police unions.
Several officers indiscriminately fired multiple shots into a civilian residence killing Breonna Taylor. Three white men hunted down and killed Ahmad Arbury. An officer shot Rayshard Brooks in the back because he ran away. And for eight minutes and forty six seconds, Derek Chauvin looked bored as he snuffed out George Floyd’s life.
Eight minutes and forty six seconds.
Collectively bargained by the KKK, also known as police unions.