Editorial note: Below are excerpts from a speech made by Richard Trumka, president of the national AFL-CIO, at the Missouri State AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis, Sept. 15, 2014. He addresses the killing of Michael Brown, an 18 year old unarmed African-American man by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, MO. The AFL-CIO represents 13 million members of many races and nationalities.
By Richard L. Trumka
I’m going to stray from my usual convention speech.
A young man named Michael Brown died just a short distance from us in Ferguson, from gunshot wounds from a police officer. Other young men of color have died and will die in similar circumstances, in communities all across this country. Because the reality is we still have racism in America.
Now, some people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved. How can we not be involved?
Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement.
We cannot afford to have my issues and your issue, we must ALL stand together and mobilize around our issues.
This matter is deeply personal with me. When I sit at my conference table at the AFL-CIO, I look across the office at a picture of my dad. He’s gone now but if you’ve lost a parent you know they never stop talking to you.†
My dad was a miner, he helped build the United Mine Workers, he bled for his union.
As I worked on this speech this is what my dad said to me. He reminded me of something that happened when I was maybe five or six. I come from a small coal-mining town in southwest Pennsylvania called Nemacolin. My best friend back then was a kid named Tom and Tommy was African American. There was a park near us called Shady Grove Park with a swimming pool where you had to pay to swim. And one day my dad drove us there to go swimming. We came up to the booth to pay. It was one of those places where you pull up and pay for everyone in the car. The guy looks in and sees Tommy in the car and tells my dad, That boy can’t swim in here. You know he can’t.
My dad never raised his voice but he said, You take out for him. We are going swimming.
We went in and me and Tommy went through the changing room and jumped in the pool. It was a hot day and the pool was packed. We jumped in and everywhere we went it was like there was a circle of open water all around us.
Later, I asked my dad about the man in the booth. I wanted to know why he didn’t like Tommy. My dad explained that it didn’t have anything to do with Tommy but with the color of his skin. I protested. I said, that’s not fair. My dad said that’s the whole point.
I have a son. I never worry when he goes for a night on the town that he may be stopped, shot to death by a police officer.
But for millions of mothers and fathers of young African American men and boys, it is a constant fear.
Think about what it would be like to watch your kid walk out the door and wonder, with good reason, if it is the last time you’ll see him alive.
PHOTO CREDIT: httpss://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhenry/