UFAS Steering Committee Affirms the Black Lives Matter Protests

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The Steering Committee of United Faculty and Academic Staff (AFT #223), in solidarity with activists and other labor unions across the country, stands in outrage and grief at the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. They are the most recent in a long string of such murders of Black people by the police. This includes the murder of 19-year old Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. on the near Eastside of Madison on March 6, 2015. His killer, Matthew Kenny, is still an officer with the Madison Police Department.

We affirm, loudly, that Black Lives Matter. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Tony Robinson—and so many others—should all be alive today. We add our voices to the demands that all four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd, as well as the officer who shot Breonna Taylor, be charged with murder. We also join the voices across our city, state, and country demanding community control over police, in order to abolish the racist personnel and policies that have led to the violent deaths of so many Black people, and establish new, just alternatives.

These are not the only violent deaths occurring in communities of color. Our state and county feature some of the starkest racial inequities in the country. The disproportionate numbers of Black, Latinx, and Native people dying of COVID-19 reflect inequities in access to quality education, economic opportunities, housing, and health care. Those inequities are compounded by high incarceration rates for people of color—which, as prisons and jails become COVID-19 epicenters, cause still more disproportionate and violent Black deaths.

Black leaders, Indigenous leaders, and other leaders of color are, once again, shining a bright light on the violence of the state and of our institutions. As a union, we will answer their calls to develop organizing practices that challenge inequitable divisions of power. We applaud and are inspired by the actions of transit union members who refused to transport protesters to jail. Yet we also understand that labor unions are not exempt from racist practices. We acknowledge how far we have to go in unlearning our socialization into systems of injustice, and in taking responsibility for dismantling those systems and the violence they perpetuate.

We repudiate current police union tactics of negotiating contracts that expunge disciplinary records, reduce punishment for wrong-doing, and support provision of military-grade weapons. We join leaders of color in insisting on the radical restructuring of and community control over police, including both the Madison and UW–Madison forces. We urge the AFL-CIO to do the same.

We support the systematic, long-term defunding of the Madison and University of Wisconsin–Madison police departments. The campus police cost $12.8 million each year, money that would be better spent supporting the students and workers who make this university run. UW–Madison police harass homeless people, arrest our students in our own classrooms, and are now assisting the Madison Police Department’s actions against protestors in downtown Madison, which have featured military-grade weaponry, including chemical agents.

Meanwhile, UW–Madison students wait weeks for mental health appointments, and critical university programs (including ethnic studies) are threatened by austerity measures. Those measures result from a budget “crisis” created by our elected officials, and have gone all but unchallenged by University leaders. As union members, educators, and scholars, we insist these issues be viewed in light of our administrators’ misguided priorities.

In a recent email, some of those administrators spoke proudly of the history of protests on our campus. This includes the 1969 Black Student Strike, which was directed at the University and led to its occupation by National Guard units. We are once again seeing those units deployed in Madison, firing tear gas at civilians (likely including students in our classes) mere blocks from our classrooms and offices.

We cannot stay silent as our administrators pay lip service to protestors of color while funding their violent suppression at the cost of educational resources that are already inequitably distributed. We pledge to build a university workplace in which all shoulder the responsibility of working for equity, rather than expecting students and workers of color to educate and organize us. We thus take on the charge of UW–Madison students, and so many others, to make the university a place freer for Black people and all people of color, and truer to the best aspects of the Wisconsin Idea.