[News] Blood on Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 26 16:13:04 EST 2015

  Blood on Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions

Posted: 01/22/2015 4:30 pm EST

Outraged by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's statements 
concerning the killing of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, the longtime 
leader of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), 
the NYPD's officers union, recently made the outrageous assertion 
that the Mayor had "blood on his hands" for the murder of the two NYPD 

In Milwaukee this past fall, the Police Association called for, and 
obtained, avote of no confidence 
in MPD Chief Ed Flynn after he fired the officer who shot and killed 
Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African American; subsequently, the union's 
leader, Mike Crivello, praised the District Attorney when he announced 
that he would not bring charges against the officer.

In Chicago, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a longtime supporter 
ofracist police torturer Jon Burge, 
is now seeking to circumvent court orders that preserve and make public 
the police misconduct files of repeater cops such as Burge, by seeking 
to enforce a police contract provision that calls for the destruction of 
the files after seven years. And in a show of solidarity with the killer 
of Michael Brown, Chicago's FOP is soliciting contributions 
<http://www.chicagofop.org/darren-wilson-defense-fund-donations/> to the 
Darren Wilson defense fund on its website.

Such reactionary actions by police unions are not new, but are a 
fundamental component of their history, particularly since they came to 
prominence in the wake of the civil rights movement. These organizations 
have played a powerful role in defending the police, no matter how 
outrageous and racist their actions, and in resisting all manner of 
police reforms.
New York*

In June 1966, New York City Mayor John Lindsay, responding to widespread 
complaints of police brutality, called for a civilian review board.Five 
thousand off duty NYPD cops 
rallied at City Hall in opposition, and the head of the PBA, leading the 
campaign against civilian review, intoned that "I am sick and tired of 
giving in to minority groups, with their whims and their gripes and 
shouting. Any review board with civilians on it is detrimental to the 
operations of the police department." Invoking the specter of increased 
crime, the PBA mounted a massive public relations campaign against the 
measure, and it was defeated in a referendum that year.

In 1975, in response to proposed budget cuts that included police 
layoffs, the PBA ordered a rampage 
the city's black and Puerto Rican communities, with thousands of off 
duty cops waving their guns, banging on trash cans, and blowing whistles 
for several nights until Mayor Abe Beame obtained a restraining order.

Ten years later, after Mayor Ed Koch revived the issue of civilian 
review in the wake of a white cop killing Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly 
and mentally ill black woman, the PBA again condemned the idea, staged a 
work slowdown in response 
to the attempted prosecution of the officer, Stephen Sullivan, and 
pressured Koch into reinstating Sullivan even though he had been 
criminally charged with the killing.

In 1992, when David Dinkins, the first (and only) African-American Mayor 
of New York City sought to implement a civilian review agency to 
investigate allegations of police misconduct, thePBA organized another 
City Hall rally in protest 
This time, the crowd of officers numbered 10,000 
with PBA members hurtling barricades, jumping on cars, blocking the 
Brooklyn Bridge and kicking a reporter. Some of the rally's participants 
carried signs showing Dinkins with a bushy Afro haircut and swollen 
lips, with racist slogans, including ones that ridiculed him as a 
"washroom attendant."

In the mid-1990s, the independent Mollen Commission, appointed by Mayor 
Dinkins to investigate police corruption, documented 
widespread police perjury, brutality, drug dealing and theft in the 
NYPD, and found that "by advising its members against cooperating with 
law-enforcement authorities, the P.B.A. often acts as a shelter for and 
protector of the corrupt cop." These findings were seconded by senior 
NYPD officials and prosecutors whowere quoted by the New York Times 
as saying that they would continue to "have trouble rooting out 
substantial numbers of corrupt officers as long as the P.B.A. resists them."

The Times further quoted these officials as complaining that the PBA, 
"fortified with millions of dollars in annual dues collections . . . is 
one of the most powerful unions in the city. As an active lobbyist in 
Albany and as a contributor to political campaigns, the P.B.A. has 
enormous influence over the department and is typically brought in for 
consultations before important management decisions are made."

In the Abner Louima case, the PBA's role extended beyond reactionary 
advocacy and agitation to active participation in a conspiracy to 
cover-up the brutal crimes of its members. In 1997, an NYPD officer 
sexually assaulted Louima in a Precinct Station bathroom by violently 
shoving a broken broomstick into his rectum. His attacker and three of 
his police accomplices were charged with criminal civil rights offenses.

Evidence in the criminal proceedings revealed that a PBA official had 
chaired an early meeting 
<http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/03/loui-m09.html> with the 
implicated officers, one of whom was a PBA delegate, at which they 
fabricated a false story designed to exonerate one of the conspirators. 
Even after the officers were convicted, the PBA continued to defend the 
officers, both publicly and with financial support, and to advocate for 
them with their fabricated version of events--withnone other than 
Patrick Lynch claiming 
<https://www.nycpba.org/archive/ch/99/ch-990827-schwarz.html> that 
"people with a political agenda have fanned the flames of this 
incident," leading to an "innocent man . . . being punished beyond belief."

More recently, Lynch and the PBA, together with the NYPD sergeants and 
captains associations, after condemning Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin's 
order that sharply limited the NYPD's discriminatory stop and frisk 
policies, unsuccessfully sought to appeal her order after Mayor de 
Blasio made good on his campaign promise not to appeal.

And this past year, confronted with another indefensible case of NYPD 
violence, PBA President Lynch again went on the offensive. In August, 
after the medical examiner determined that Eric Garner's death at the 
hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo was a homicide by means of a chokehold, 
Lynch declared that the examiner was "mistaken" in finding that the 
death was a homicide, and that he had "never seen a document that was 
more political than that press release by the [medical examiner]."

In a classic case of doubletalk, he further asserted that it was "not a 
chokehold. It was bringing a person to the ground the way we're trained 
to do to place him under arrest." He chastised Mayor de Blasio for not 
"support[ing] New York City police officers unequivocally."

In December, Lynch praised the Staten Island Grand Jury's decision not 
to charge Panteleo, while accusing Garner of resisting arrest, brushing 
off two police misconduct lawsuits--one for sexual assault during a 
search-- brought against Panteleo and idolizing him as "literally an 
Eagle Scout," a "model" cop, and "mature, mature" officer.

And once again, the PBA unleasheda work slowdown in further protest 
Mayor de Blasio that lasted several weeks.


In Chicago, the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents CPD patrol 
officers, has a similarly notorious history.

Handmaiden to the rioting cops who indiscriminately and brutally beat 
demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the FOP held a reunion 
of their 1968 troops in 2009 at the FOP Lodge. They proudly displayed 
pictures of some of the wanton police brutality on their website and, in 
an attempt to rewrite history (and the Walker Report's findings 
<http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/tu_chicago7_doc_13.html> of a 
"police riot"), trumpeted that "the time has come that the Chicago 
Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining 
law and order--and for taking a stand against Anarchy. ... The 
Democratic National Convention was about to start and the only thing 
that stood between Marxist street thugs and public order was a thin blue 
line of dedicated, tough Chicago police officers."

In the 1970s and 1980s, the FOP, demonstrating its reactionary and 
racist essence within its own ranks, aligned itself against the forces 
that were fighting to bring affirmative action to the CPD. The Afro 
American Patrolman's League led the battle and was confronted in their 
legal struggle at every turn by disgruntled white officers and the FOP.

In 1990, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution that declared 
December 4 "Fred Hampton Day." On December 4, 1969, Hampton, a dynamic 
young Black Panther Party leader, was slain in his bed by Chicago police 
in what, by 1990, had been documented and widely accepted in the 
African-American community as a politically motivated murder. 
Surprisingly, Mayor Richard M. Daley did not oppose the resolution. But 
the FOP most certainly did.

FOP President John Dineen launched a lobbying campaign to repeal the 
resolution, publicly belittled the BPP's service programs and slandered 
Hampton, who was considered to be a martyr by many African Americans and 
activists, as a person who "dedicated his life to killing the pigs." 
History repeated itself in 2006 when, after the City Council unanimously 
voted to rename the block where Hampton was murdered "Chairman Fred 
Hampton Way," FOP President Mark Donahue organized the families of slain 
CPD officers to lobby for its rescission, while publicly voicing his cop 
membership's "outrage" and "disbelief" at the decision.

In the early 1990s, the FOP began its campaign-- which it continues to 
pursue to this day--of defending Jon Burge and his fellow police 
torturers. In November 1991, the emerging evidence of a pattern of 
police torture by Burge and his cadre of all-too-willing enforcers 
compelled the City of Chicago to initiate administrative proceedings 
before the Chicago Police Board in order to fire Burge and two of his 
co-conspirators for thebrutal electric shock torture of Andrew Wilson 
Since the city was no longer financing the torturers' defense, as it had 
in the civil rights damages case brought by Wilson, the FOP stepped up 
and gladly assumed responsibility.

The FOP and its spin-off organization, theBurge-O'Hara-Yucaitis Family 
Fund Committee (BOY), 
then set out on a campaign that sought not only to raise money for the 
defense, but also to viciously attack Burge's victims and the lawyers 
from the People's Law Office, (including myself) who had brought much of 
the damning evidence to light. They falsely accused us of fabricating 
the evidence of systemic torture and of making millions from exposing 
the scandal. They also organized a raucous fundraiser at a local union 
hall where Burge was lionized by thousands of cops and prosecutors.

After a six-week evidentiary hearing, the Police Board fired Burge and 
suspended one of the other charged officers. Dineen called the decision 
a "travesty of justice," and only weeks later the FOP announced that it 
intended to enter a float honoring Burge and his compatriots in the 
annual South Side Irish Parade--a parade in which Chicago Mayors and 
numerous other politicians regularly marched. The public outrage and 
cries of racism that followed the FOP's announcement were swift and 
strong, and the FOP was forced to withdraw the float.

A few years later a federal judge, quoting Martin Luther King's "Letter 
from a Birmingham Jail," ordered that a number of police files that 
documented the systemic nature of the torture "with all its pus flowing 
ugliness" be released "to the natural medicines of air and light." The 
FOP intervened in the suit, seeking to overturn the order, and continued 
to pursue its battle to suppress the files with an unsuccessful appeal.

In 2008, the FOP again became actively involved in defending Burge after 
he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under 
oath about whether he tortured African-American suspects. The FOP Board, 
without putting it to a vote of its membership, pushed through a 
resolution to pay for Burge's lawyers in the criminal case.

Defending its decision, FOP President Mark Donahue asserted that Burge, 
despite the more than 100 documented cases of torture that had been 
amassed against him over the years, had been unfairly tarnished by 
allegations from criminals, and that politicians and lawyers for Burge's 
victims had fueled a media hysteria which "caused Jon Burge to be the 
'poster child' of alleged police torture in this city for an entire 
generation." Invoking what can be described as the FOP's unrepentant 
motto, Donahue vowed that it "will stand with the police officer every 
time." A group of African-American officers unsuccessfully challenged 
the decision in Court 
stating, "We do not support torture. We do not condone torture. We do 
not embrace torture. We will never support that type of behavior on the 

In 2011, Burge, despite his high-priced FOP-financed defense, was 
convicted of three felonies and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in 
federal prison. Nonetheless, the Police Pension Board, which was 
comprised of four former or present CPD officers and four 
civilians,voted 4-4 
on the question of whether Burge should be stripped of his pension, 
which he had been receiving since 1997. By law, the tie was resolved in 
pensioner Burge's favor.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit, seeking to reverse 
the decision, and the FOP defended the ruling, with an FOP-financed 
private lawyer arguing on behalf of Burge. The case was appealed all the 
way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which, in a 4-3 decision this past 
summer, ruled in favor of Burge and the Pension Board. 

This appalling history is not limited to New York, Chicago or Milwaukee 
by any means. Other notable examples include Detroit in the mid-1970s, 
where the Detroit Police Officers Association challenged police reforms 
and affirmative action initiatives which sought to stem rampant police 
brutality against African Americans with a lawsuit; after it lost its 
case, it orchestrated a police riot 

In Los Angeles in the early 1990s, African-American Mayor Tom Bradley 
condemned the state court jury verdict which absolved LAPD officers of 
criminal charges for brutally beating Rodney King, by stating that the 
verdict "will never blind us to what we saw on that videotape," and 
further stated that "the men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear 
the uniform of the LAPD." In response, the L.A. Police Protective League 
reacted with a vengeance that, according to Police Chief Richard 
Riordan, lasted for years 

And more recently, in Seattle, the Police Officers' Guild mounted a 
verbal attack on then-Mayor Michael McGinn 
after he stated, in response to the shooting of a Native American 
word-carver, that the Seattle police force had no place for officers who 
did not share his commitment to racial justice.

Whether unions which represent police officers, correctional guards and 
other law enforcement officers are the same kind of workers' 
organizations as other unions, which can potentially be used to further 
the interests of the working class as a whole, has been vigorously 
contested <https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/the-bad-kind-of-unionism/> 
by many progressives and leftists over the years. But the disturbing 
history of these powerful organizations makes it very clear that they 
mirror and reinforce the most racist, brutal and reactionary elements 
within the departments they claim to represent and actively encourage 
the code of silence within those departments. They are far from 
democratic, with officers of color and women having little or no influence.

In truth, police unions further the-all-too-accurate conception that the 
police are an occupying force in poor communities of color, and are 
antithetical in principle and action to the progressive principles of 
the labor movement.

/Flint Taylor is a founding partner of the People's Law Office in 
Chicago. He is one of the lawyers for the families of slain Black 
Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, and together with his law 
partner Jeffrey Haas was trial counsel in the marathon 1976 civil trial. 
He has also represented many survivors of Chicago police torture, and 
has done battle with the Chicago Police Department--and the Fraternal 
Order of Police--on numerous occasions over his 45 year career as a 
people's lawyer./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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