Police Union Denies Racism, Calls AFL-CIO President “Disgraceful” in Irate Letter

Hamilton Nolan June 30, 2020

Cabral’s outrage notwithstanding, Trumka himself has actually been an ally of police unions in the AFL-CIO. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In a scathing let­ter to AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent Richard Trum­ka dat­ed June 12, the leader of the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Police Asso­ci­a­tions said that a state­ment about America’s his­to­ry of racism and vio­lence against black peo­ple is patent­ly false,” and angri­ly denounced Trum­ka as dis­grace­ful” for play­ing to the crowd” on the issue of police reform. 

The let­ter, which has not been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, appears to be the first response from the IUPA’s pres­i­dent, Sam Cabral, in the wake of swelling crit­i­cism of police unions fol­low­ing the killing of George Floyd. 

On June 8, the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­i­ca, East (where I am a coun­cil mem­ber), one of the 55 unions in the AFL-CIO, passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the labor coali­tion to kick out the IUPA, its only full police union mem­ber. A num­ber of oth­er union locals and lead­ers out­side of the AFL-CIO have joined that call, and oth­ers have said that police unions must achieve seri­ous reforms in order to stay in the labor move­ment. On June 9, the AFL-CIO released a state­ment decry­ing police vio­lence and sup­port­ing reform mea­sures (but reject­ing the call to kick out police unions alto­geth­er). These events prompt­ed Cabral’s irate let­ter to Trum­ka, which was copied to all of the union pres­i­dents in the AFL-CIO. 

Your recent state­ment where you speak of America’s long his­to­ry of racism and vio­lence against black peo­ple’ is inflam­ma­to­ry and patent­ly false,” Cabral’s let­ter begins. He dis­miss­es com­plaints about racial pro­fil­ing and mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police forces as ridicu­lous,” and says that on a recent day in Chica­go that saw 18 mur­ders, None of them were shot by the police.” 

Cabral writes that police were shocked and sad­dened” by George Floyd’s death, and tells Trum­ka, I find it rep­re­hen­si­ble that you would paint us with so broad a brush by includ­ing all of our fine mem­ber­ship in such an abhor­rent act — it is dis­grace­ful that you would dis­hon­or all of Law Enforce­ment based on the act of one, or the extreme few.” 

Cabral com­pares the actions of bad cops to the out­liers” among union offi­cials who have been inves­ti­gat­ed for cor­rup­tion and crimes. Notably, he includes in that list Tef­ere Gebre, the cur­rent exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the AFL-CIO and the only per­son of col­or in exec­u­tive lead­er­ship. Gebre was inves­ti­gat­ed and then rein­stat­ed by Trum­ka last year for an expense account dis­crep­an­cy in a dis­pute that Gebre said was actu­al­ly moti­vat­ed by under­ly­ing polit­i­cal differences.

The Amer­i­can police offi­cer is the 6th most trust­ed occu­pa­tion in Amer­i­ca. Labor Lead­ers fall well below that mark, just above lawyers,” writes Cabral, who is him­self a labor leader. 

In what is the first known IUPA response to calls for its dis­af­fil­i­a­tion, Cabral says that I know you are under pres­sure to remove us from the AFL-CIO. I hear no call to remove the police offi­cers, deputy sher­iffs, and cor­rec­tions offi­cers from the dozen of oth­er Inter­na­tion­als which rep­re­sent them.” (This is not true — some res­o­lu­tions have specif­i­cal­ly asked the AFL-CIO to kick out all police mem­bers, while oth­ers have sin­gled out the IUPA, and urged oth­er unions that have police mem­bers to eval­u­ate whether those mem­bers are com­pat­i­ble with the goals of labor.) 

We are more than will­ing and even anx­ious to dis­cuss how we can improve what we believe are mis­con­cep­tions that cause fear in some mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ties. We will not, how­ev­er, sit down with those that march the streets call­ing for our death or those with a loud voice that have already indict­ed 850,000 men and women based on one hor­ri­ble inci­dent,” the let­ter con­cludes. Your state­ments, Pres­i­dent Trum­ka, are a prime exam­ple of pro­fil­ing.’ You should be ashamed.”

The AFL-CIO declined to com­ment on the let­ter. The IUPA did not reply to a request for comment. 

The furi­ous, defen­sive response to calls for police reform is rem­i­nis­cent of anoth­er let­ter that Cabral sent to Trum­ka in 2014 fol­low­ing the protests in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri over the killing of Michael Brown. Then, as now, Cabral crit­i­cized AFL-CIO state­ments, and wrote “[Police] are not the cause of the prob­lems fac­ing the black com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­i­ca. They are not respon­si­ble for the sin­gle par­ent fam­i­lies, the unem­ploy­ment, the school dropout rate or its atten­dant unac­cept­able lit­er­a­cy rate among black youth. They are not respon­si­ble for the gangs, black on black crime, or the infant mor­tal­i­ty rate.” 

It is dif­fi­cult to see how the IUPA’s long-estab­lished hos­til­i­ty to any whiff of crit­i­cism over insti­tu­tion­al racism, embod­ied in the lat­est let­ter, is com­pat­i­ble with the AFL-CIO’s own state­ment that We are proud to join the calls for polic­ing and crim­i­nal jus­tice reform by Black Lives Mat­ter and the broad­er civ­il rights move­ment.” The IUPA is one of the few unions that has endorsed Don­ald Trump for re-election.

Cabral’s out­rage notwith­stand­ing, Trum­ka him­self has actu­al­ly been an ally of police unions in the AFL-CIO. A week after Cabral’s let­ter, Trum­ka spoke out against the idea of oust­ing the IUPA from the labor coali­tion, argu­ing that many police are com­mu­ni­ty friend­ly.” It appears that no mat­ter how much the IUPA insults him per­son­al­ly, Trum­ka con­tin­ues to stead­fast­ly stand by their side. 

The full text of the let­ter is below. 

— —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  — —

June 122020

Mr. Richard Trumka

AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent

Dear Mr. President, 

Your recent state­ment where you speak of America’s long his­to­ry of racism and vio­lence against black peo­ple” is inflam­ma­to­ry and patent­ly false. Fur­ther your call to end racial pro­fil­ing and demil­i­ta­rize” police forces makes assump­tions that are, again, ridicu­lous. Racial pro­fil­ing is already banned in every police agency I am aware of. If by mil­i­ta­riza­tion” you are refer­ring to our mem­bers hav­ing mil­i­tary sur­plus armored vehi­cles and oth­er equip­ment, you should first have, at least, gained a pass­ing knowl­edge of when and why those vehi­cles and equip­ment are deployed. In short, they save both law enforce­ment and civil­ian lives. 

Last Sun­day, 18 peo­ple were mur­dered in Chica­go while the police were being deployed else­where to main­tain order. It was their dead­liest day in 60 years. Most of those vic­tims were African Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, some of them chil­dren. None of them were shot by the police. 

No police offi­cer I have spo­ken with, or heard from, thinks that what hap­pened to George Floyd is excus­able in any fash­ion. We were all shocked and sad­dened by it! I find it rep­re­hen­si­ble that you would paint us with so broad a brush by includ­ing all of our fine mem­ber­ship in such an abhor­rent act — it is dis­grace­ful that you would dis­hon­or all of Law Enforce­ment based on the act of one, or the extreme few. 

Your indict­ment of police offi­cers” based on the Min­neapo­lis event is akin to some­one mak­ing alle­ga­tions against the labor move­ment based on indict­ments and inves­ti­ga­tions involv­ing Vance Peter­son and oth­ers of the UAW or local offi­cers of the Steel­work­ers in Albany and Cleve­land or even the recent inquiry of Tef­ere Gebre. Those, we accept, were out­liers and were han­dled appro­pri­ate­ly when their crimes or admin­is­tra­tive mis­deeds were dis­cov­ered. That cour­tesy, how­ev­er, does not apply to union mem­ber police offi­cers from YOU, the Pres­i­dent of the union to which they belong. 

The Amer­i­can police offi­cer is the 6th most trust­ed occu­pa­tion in Amer­i­ca. Labor Lead­ers fall well below that mark, just above lawyers. 

I don’t believe that any­thing I say will have the slight­est impact on your rhetoric. You are play­ing to the crowd. I believe it is a crowd you are seri­ous­ly misreading. 

I know you are under pres­sure to remove us from the AFL-CIO. I hear no call to remove the police offi­cers, deputy sher­iffs, and cor­rec­tions offi­cers from the dozen of oth­er Inter­na­tion­als which rep­re­sent them. 

We are more than will­ing and even anx­ious to dis­cuss how we can improve what we believe are mis­con­cep­tions that cause fear in some mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ties. We will not, how­ev­er, sit down with those that march the streets call­ing for our death or those with a loud voice that have already indict­ed 850,000 men and women based on one hor­ri­ble incident. 

Your state­ments, Pres­i­dent Trum­ka, are a prime exam­ple of pro­fil­ing.” You should be ashamed. 

In Sol­i­dar­i­ty,

Sam A. Cabral

Inter­na­tion­al President 

CC: Pres­i­dents of All Affil­i­at­ed AFL-CIO Unions

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH