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.
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June 12, 2020
Mr. Richard Trumka
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.
Sam A. Cabral
CC: Presidents of All Affiliated AFL-CIO Unions
Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer 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.