By Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director
Last July, millions watched Diamond Reynolds’ livestream on Facebook in the immediate aftermath of a terrible scene: a Minnesota police officer had pulled Reynold’s boyfriend over and shot him, with her 4-year-old daughter still in the car.
“Stay with me,” Reynolds urged her boyfriend on the video, as she politely followed the officer’s orders.
Philando Castile, a black man in his early 30s, had not committed a crime or traffic violation. He informed the officer that he had a gun on him and was licensed to carry, and that he was reaching for his identification. The police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, fired seven shots and killed Castile anyway.
In the weeks and months that followed, the death of Philando Castile sparked protests in Minneapolis and across the country. Millions mourned and shared stories about his life – how he was a union man, a dedicated school cafeteria manager who carefully learned the names and food allergies of the 500 students he served every day. He was beloved.
It was a clear case of wrongdoing, of a cop killing an innocent black man and traumatizing a 4-year-old girl for the rest of her life – and it was on tape. Many hoped that this time, the outcome of a trial would be different.
But last week a jury acquitted Yanez of all charges.
“The system continues to fail black people,” Castile’s mother told a crowd after the verdict. “We’re going back to 1969. […] What is it going to take?”
Many took to the streets in protest, while others shared their outrage and grief on social media. Journalist Sydette Harry tweeted: “Why must black death be broadcast and consumed to be believed, and what is it beyond spectacle if it cannot be used to obtain justice?”
How is this fair? And what can we do?
My answer to the first question is simple: it’s not fair, and it’s not just – it’s racism, and it’s embedded at the core of our justice system.
When I think of Philando Castile and the many innocent black lives taken by this system, I remember so clearly what it felt like to be on the wrong side of an officer’s gun when I was just sixteen.
Like Castile, I wasn’t doing anything wrong – I just happened to “match the description” of someone who had committed a crime. I was standing outside of a burger joint in San Dimas, CA, hoping to speak to the manager to inquire about a job.
Before I knew it I was being forced into the backseat of an officer’s car. He warned me that if I made a move he would “blow my brains out”. I have never been so afraid in my life.
Many in America are just now learning what black people have always known – the justice system isn’t just.
To the second question, “what can we do?” I can tell you this: I have over 30 years of experience in the labor and civil rights movements, and there is only one way to bring about real change – organize, organize, organize.
Many are already doing this, of course, and staging huge protests and marches to disrupt the status quo. But we need to bring more people into this movement. We need to reach across our differences to see that not one of us is free until we are all free.
At UDW, we don’t just fight for home care workers – we fight for the many diverse issues that touch working peoples’ lives. We know that winning justice for caregivers means nothing if home care providers and our loved ones are being imprisoned, deported, or killed.
That’s why we’re leading the way to build a labor movement that fights for all of us. For workers, for people of color, for women, for seniors and people with disabilities, for children, for immigrants, for Muslims, for LGBT people.
A movement that fights for black lives. A movement that fights for Philando Castile.
Will you join this fight?
Statement by UDW Executive Director Doug Moore in response to deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling:
Today we’re enraged about the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men killed by the police who are supposed to protect our communities. Philando Castile was a Teamster, one of our brothers in the labor movement. We have an obligation to act on his behalf, and on behalf of Alton Sterling, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and too many more. We cannot and will not be silent. These murders are yet another blatant reminder that we have to be bold in our stance and our action against anti-black and brown racism.
Union members and members of our communities are being killed for nothing more than the perceived threat of the color of their skin. UDW members don’t just look to their union to protect their rights as workers, they want a union that cares about their overall wellbeing, quality of life, and their communities. We can’t help them win better pay, benefits, and labor protections, but sit idly by while they are shot and killed during a traffic stop on the way home.
UDW is prepared to mobilize in the streets with labor and community activists around racial justice and the unarmed killings of black and brown people by police. We will not betray the memory of those who have been killed by turning a blind eye, because our silence condones the actions of the officers who killed these men and others like them. We will not be silent.
United Domestic Workers of America (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930 is a homecare union made up of nearly 94,000 in-home caregivers across the state of California. UDW caregivers provide care through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS), which allows hundreds of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities to stay safe and healthy at home.