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A Statement Regarding the Death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter By Paul Barton, Secretary-Treasurer

2020 has been a year of change, a year of adapting to a new reality, with COVID-19 and quarantines and self-isolations, Social Distancing, canceled travel and vacations, job loss and/or layoffs, family separations and, in addition to all of that, the effects of the virus itself on friends, colleagues and loved ones.

 

Many people are scared, many people are suffering and then, in the midst of all of this upheaval, Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned George Floyd to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 8½ minutes, asphyxiating him and kicking off a surge of protests throughout the US and around the world.

 

Many have tried to make excuses by referencing Floyd’s prior convictions and an allegation of using counterfeit money, the reason for the call to Police, but the last I checked, neither warranted a death sentence without trial.

 

To me and many others, the scene was surreal.  There was no chase, no violent struggle, no other way to see the matter other than to watch with horror as Officer Chauvin dispassionately, calmly, sapped the life out of a fellow man while onlookers pleaded with him to release his hold on a man who was clearly not a threat and allow him to breathe.  After struggling to tell Police he could not breathe, Floyd’s final words were to call out to his late mother.

 

As an Officer of the Teamsters Union and a Representative of many, many people of colour, I am appalled at these events.  I am stunned by a system that treats people of colour as “less than” another human being.

 

By no means was this sort of event an isolated incident in America.  I say the names to give tribute to those who were involuntarily drawn into this struggle:  Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Teamster Brother Philando Castile, and so, so many more.

 

I’d like to believe that we don’t suffer racism in Canada, but I have come across it many times in my years, both as a worker and as a Union Representative.  I want to be clear, we do not tolerate racism within our Union ranks nor our employers.

 

It should be noted that the Teamsters Union represents some 30,000 Police Officers across North America and have received an outpouring of support for George Floyd, his family and BLM from among these Union Brothers and Sisters along with condemnation of the actions of the Police in these incidents.

 

As we continue to encourage the peaceful protests that have sprung up around the world, we pray for change and that cooler heads will prevail.  I hope for the day that all of us can see the differences in ourselves as something to celebrate, not something that breeds hate or division.

 

The Teamsters Union has a very long history of levelling the playing field through equal pay and equal rights for all, regardless of race or gender.  It’s time we held our Legislators, protectors and each other to the same standard.  It’s time to ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do better.

 

 

The links below provide a perspective from Teamsters in the USA:

 

A statement by General President James P. Hoffa:

 

https://teamster.org/2020/05/teamsters-statement-on-murder-of-george-floyd/

 

A statement by Rick Hicks, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 174 in Seattle:

 

https://teamsters174.net/teamsters-local-174-statement-on-civil-rights-labor-rights-from-local-174-secretary-treasurer-rick-hicks/

 

From the New York Daily News, a statement by Sean T. Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813 in New York City:

 

https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-put-in-our-place-again-20200610-ewycfwwsrbg7xdd2iv4merbqce-story.html

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