Police Unions: It’s Over!

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Black Lives Matter: The Fight Isn’t Over

Police unions are at the heart of legitimizing killing black people and minorities in America. They’ll defend their members against almost any inhuman behavior, including killing.  

History demonstrates that without an overhaul of police unions, Black Lives Matter will, in the long run, matter little. Without citizen review boards of police unions, genuine police reform will remain window dressing.

Rodney King, March 3, 1991, survived police brutality as members of the Los Angeles Police Department beat an unarmed King on the ground. Six days of riots, 63 people killed and more than 2,300 people injured. The police chief and head of the police union concurred on this point: “You have to put things in context, ”, minimizing the severity of the event. Nothing has structurally changed.

Police in Ferguson, Missouri murdered Michael Brown, 18 years old, on August 9, 2014. Officer Wilson who shot a defenseless person was not indicted by the grand jury. The city is 67 percent black. Riots occurred throughout the city and an entire downtown area was lit on fire the day after the killing, 321 people were arrested.

While Black Lives Matter was formed as a result of the Ferguson event, no structural changes were enacted. President Obama, who later dropped in to make a speech on the importance of the First Amendment, failed to have any real effect as well. Police unions still operate with impunity.

George Floyd, recently killed in Minneapolis, is yet another victim of police brutality, one of almost 1,000 people killed by police annually. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because police departments systematically block information (see below).

After all the protests, riots, and media events, small changes may occur, but the only real change that matters, in the long run, is civilian oversight of police unions. Police unions as structured need to be busted up, reprogrammed, and subject to new oversight authority. Anything less will have the same result as the past, little or nothing.

Criminal Syndicates:

Founded in Philadelphia 1915, police unions refer to themselves as ‘Fraternal Organizations of Police’ (FOP) or ‘benevolent associations’. They represent approximately 350,000 officers in 2,100 local chapters known as ‘state lodges’ across the U.S. While they have the status of a labor union, they have more in common with a criminal syndicate, evading legal review and civilian oversight.

The former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, once described the New York police union as a “fringe organization”, and no less than Robert F. Kennedy stated that they are a “sinister movement against law enforcement” itself.

Police unions, as far back as the 1960s, have viciously fought against the creation of police review boards. Any investigation into union activities brands the investigator with a “liberal attempt to discredit law enforcement”. Police unions are deathly afraid of their truth being exposed; transparency of their systemic roots should end them.

Police unions are intolerant of dissent among their members. John Catanzara, head of the FOP for Chicago, recently noted that any officer ‘taking a knee’ in sympathy with protesters would be “thrown out of the lodge”. He and other leaders won’t tolerate “betrayal of the union”. This stance may have threatened the NYPD lieutenant who took a knee with protestors to apologize profusely to other members the day after his action. Recanting heartfelt actions may be safer than suffering at the hands of the union.

Mr. Catanzara has in the past appeared in a Facebook photo in uniform supporting Donald Trump and gun rights. The union barely supports collective bargaining rights for public safety employees.

According to their own Fraternal Order of Police Emblem, members swear to uphold the law, and are proud to serve the public— all those persons who put “confidence and trust in us”. These laudable words cover up violent activities and illegal behavior.

The NY Sunday Times recently featured an opinion piece by Mariame Kaba, organizer against criminalization, entitled “Yes, We Mean Abolish the Police”. While the article points to many actions that can be done to improve the situation, not one word is mentioned about restructuring police unions. This is a major strategic omission and will ultimately lead nowhere in solving police violence.


Police unions and Federal officials systematically block access to real data on the number of people killed annually by police. The Death In Custody Reporting Act, passed in 2013 and enacted in 2014, stipulates that Federal officials need to gather data from police departments on the number of police killings and make them public. This law is a redo of an earlier law that expired in 2006.

Federal officials have not yet gathered such data and made it public, in spite of the law. Some reports on numbers of people killed by police claim 450, others 680, still others 1,000. When details are asked for the cover-up begins: it is estimated that somewhere between 11 percent and 40 percent of deaths are actually reported, depending upon whose report you read and believe. No two reports on fatalities are the same.

Police unions often defend the behavior of their members by pointing out how dangerous their jobs are. While this may be true in some crime-ridden areas, the facts overall are different:

  • In 2018, for example, 147 officers were reported killed, 48 by gunfire, representing about 35 percent, about the same number that died from a heart attack and 9/11 related cancer cases.
  • This trend continued in 2019, and in 2020 so far, 47 officers have died from Covid-19, not gunfire.

Interestingly, there are fewer officers killed in New York than in Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, or California. In other words, the justification for the use of excessive force by officers in New York doesn’t fit the facts. What it does fit is a pattern of abuse and cover-up by powerful police unions.

A police officer in the U.S. is 10 to 15 times more likely to kill a person than be killed. In 45 states the number of police killed in the line of duty during any one year is one.

Civilian Review of Police Unions:

The Black Lives Matter movement needs to push for a civilian oversight of police unions to be a top priority. This should start in New York and expand to other states. Every effort should be made to focus on this goal and make it law with some teeth. This will stop police unions from protecting ‘bad cops’ and covering up the killings of minorities. Nothing short of this will solve the problem. The fight has just begun.

Take Action by donating to organizations that are in the fight against racial injustice.

MoveOn: https://act.moveon.org/donate/pac-donation

DNC: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/web-donate

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

NAACP: https://www.naacp.org/Donate/

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