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Challenging Racism at Work

This post was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of New Labor Forum

By Sarah Jaffe

Cameron McLay became chief of police in Pittsburgh in September 2014, tasked by new mayor Bill Peduto with cleaning up the department, after its former chief wound up in federal prison for corruption. This put him in charge at a time when the Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country, calling for an end to police brutality, racial profiling, and the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police officers. When the chief met some of those activists, with the group What’s Up?! Pittsburgh, at community festivities, he posed, in uniform, for an Instagram photo with one of their signs. It read: “I resolve to challenge racism @ work. #EndWhiteSilence.” The photo looked to many like a rare example of a police officer supporting the message of the protesters — the mayor told reporters that he immediately reposted the picture to his own Facebook page.

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But the Fraternal Order of Police, like other police unions around the country, did not take kindly to the message. The FOP president accused the chief’s photo of itself discriminating against officers “merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession.” But the chief did not back down, replying, “the reality of U.S. policing is that our enforcement efforts have a disparate impact on communities of color. This is a statistical fact. You know, as well as I, the social factors driving this reality. The gross disparity in wealth and opportunity is evident in our city. Frustration and disorder are certain to follow.”

Photo by Li Tsin Soon via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).