This is a personal statement by a member of MORE. It may or may not represent the official view of the MORE caucus.
By Julie Cavanagh
Teacher/Chapter Leader P.S.15k
One year ago I received a phone call from a former student. After a few exchanged pleasantries he interrupted me to say, “Deion is dead”. My heart sank, a lump formed in my throat, and I listened to what is an increasingly all too familiar story of a young black man dying during a low-level police interaction.
Deion and his girlfriend swiped into the subway on one metro card. Deion was headed back to Red Hook from his girlfriend’s neighborhood. She was keeping him company on the platform, which is why she didn’t swipe a separate metro card. The police approached Deion and his girlfriend and confronted them about swiping only once. What happened next is not exactly clear, but Deion ran, was chased, eventually was caught, ended up a quadriplegic and later died from his injuries. The police reported he had been clipped by a train, but before he died, Deion told his side of the story in detail, which included no run in with a train but rather being brutally beaten by the police. The value of Deion’s life it would seem was a mere $2.50.
I have never written or taken action publicly out of respect for Mrs. Fludd who as his mother made deeply personal decisions about how to handle Deion’s death including taking time for her and her family to heal. Mrs. Fludd has since spoken publicly and has given me permission to do so.
In the last month five unarmed black men have been killed by police officers: Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and Dante Parker
Since the start of the Iraq war 4488 American soldiers have been killed. During the same time period, 5000 American citizens have been killed at the hands of the police.
In the last decade hundreds of black men have died at the hands of the police. Today there are more American citizens in the prison system in the United States than the citizens in any other developed nation, including China.
Stating these facts does not mean I am anti-police officer. But they send a loud and clear message that there is a problem with policing in our country, a problem that disproportionately affects people of color, especially black men, and puts the freedom and liberty of every United States citizen in jeopardy.
So why is this an issue teachers, and their unions, must be vocal about? Eric Garner’s children and grandchildren have attended, attend and will attend public schools. Deion and Michael Brown were public school students. If their teachers cannot be counted on to stand with them, to fight for them, who can they count on?
As educators and public servants who navigate public spaces and have an implicit stewardship over our nation’s youth, we stand positioned closest to our communities and the fight for racial, social and economic justice. If not us, than who, if not now, then when?
A firestorm has erupted in recent days that has played out on the pages of newspapers, social media, and countless emails between educators, politicians, and community leaders about the UFT’s support and sponsorship of A March for Justice. There are plenty of critiques and voices expressing a range of opinions from criticism of Al Sharpton, to the UFT’s democratic decision making (or lack thereof), to branding it as anti-police. Let’s be clear: Eric Garner’s family, his wife, children and grandchildren left behind, will be leading this march. Is any one of us prepared to look them in the eye and say, “I will not stand with you.”? I, for one, am not.
Educators have an important place, in standing for justice for all. We must recognize that we have a broken justice system in this country that disproportionately targets and consumes people of color, especially black men.
Our police officers have the immense challenge and responsibility to protect and serve our citizens, all of them, and the majority do their best. Like PBA president Lynch, I believe in due process and I firmly believe our brave men and women in uniform do not leave their homes and families each day to kill, harass, or wrongly imprison their fellow citizens, but the reality is these things are happening, in alarming numbers, and we have an opportunity, due to the long overdue attention these tragedies are receiving today, for systemic change and healing tomorrow.
As I understand the march this Saturday, the demand is transparency, accountability, and an effort to raise awareness for the kinds of policing changes that are needed, here in New York City, and more broadly. I understand the tensions and political posturing that make this issue “complicated”, but we cannot be deterred or divided from a common cause: a better world where all of our citizens are treated equally and humanely.
At the center of many of the recent tragedies, the “broken windows” policy of policing and the conscious or unconscious targeting, assumption of guilt and fear of black men has come into focus.
We cannot stand by silent at this pivotal moment for something good to come out of the needless deaths of countless men like Eric Garner and Deion Fludd. Rather, we must stand together and demand change. This is where Mr. Lynch and I diverge.
I ran against Michael Mulgrew in the last UFT election. I was prepared to serve and represent my fellow educators as the president of one of the largest union locals in the country. In that role, difficult decisions must be made, and sometimes those decisions must be made quickly. Rather than blaming and criticizing everyone from Mr. Garner himself, to the medical examiner who ruled Garner’s death a homicide, to Michael Mulgrew, Mr. Lynch would better serve his members, and our city, by standing with the Garner family. Compassion, understanding, and a commitment to improve relationships and policy is the responsibility of not only a union leader, but of all of us.
There is plenty of room for debate as to the policy solutions that will serve all of our citizenry, but there is no debate that a father and grandfather should not be left to die on a Staten Island sidewalk because, in the past, he sold loosies. There is no debate that a seventeen year old making his way home, should not become a quadrapalegic and later die, because he and his girlfriend swiped a metrocard once, not twice.
Yes both men resisted arrest, but wouldn’t you if you felt you were being wrongly arrested? Resisting arrest should not equal a death sentence.
This week I have the honor of driving the young man who called to tell me about Deion’s death and Deion’s brother to college. Their journey is a light in the darkness of recent and historical tragedy. My husband and I will return with our son on Friday, will wake Saturday morning, and join the family of Eric Garner and Deion Fludd in a march for justice and change.
I will explain to my blue-eyed white-skinned son that an injustice to one, is an injustice to us all. I will tell him that the police, like his uncles, are here to protect us and serve us, and hopefully he will never need their help, but if he does, they will be there. I will tell him that sometimes people do bad things, whether they mean to or not, and there are consequences for every choice we make. I will explain that not everyone has his privilege, and with privilege comes an even greater responsibility to fight for justice, equal treatment under the law, and a better world for all.
I will tell him to look over at Karen Fludd, Deion’s mother who we will be marching with, and tell her that her son was loved, that his life matters, and our lives are best spent fighting for the promise of a better world where her pain will never again exist.
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