Thu. Nov 30th, 2023

It’s the job of a labor union to represent its members in contract talks and to enforce the provisions of those contracts. It’s not a union’s job to protect members from the consequences of illegal or wrongful conduct.

However, a union’s obligation to provide representation and to enforce contract provisions that require due process can create the appearance that labor unions are defending indefensible conduct.

Try this thought experiment: imagine that a person you know to be innocent is wrongly accused of a crime or misconduct at work. The union that represents that person steps up to provide a defense and fight for every bit of due process that the contract requires or allows.

Now imagine that a person you know to be guilty is accused of a crime or misconduct at work. The union that represents that person steps up to provide a defense and fight for every bit of due process that the contract requires or allows.

The union’s actions are the same in each case, but your opinion of its actions may vary with your perception of the facts.

This explains much of the division in the nation today over policing. People have different experiences in their encounters with law enforcement based on their own physical characteristics. Whether police are making a reasonable judgment or acting in a discriminatory manner will always be a fair question, but there’s no denying that a 25-year-old Black man and a 25-year-old white woman are likely to be treated differently by police under some circumstances. Those experiences, over a lifetime, shape a person’s perception of the facts when they see something happen.

Sometimes video clips can be deceptive, and people can be manipulated with selective information that plays to their perceptions. Any mystery or detective story relies on leading your mind down the wrong path, just to pull the rug in a surprise ending that shows you how wrong you were.

When real lives are at stake, it’s not so entertaining. Police unions have the difficult job of standing up for police officers who have been accused of wrongdoing.

That’s why the significance of a recent development should not be underestimated. Three politically powerful police unions representing officers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose took out full-page newspaper ads calling for reforms that could lead to some officers being removed from the force. “Police unions must root out racism wherever it rears its ugly head and root out any racist individual from our profession,” they wrote. “Police officers come from and reflect our communities. Unfortunately, there is racism in our communities and that means across our country that there are some racist police officers.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective League and the associations that represent police officers in San Francisco and San Jose called for “a national database of former police officers fired for gross misconduct that prevents other agencies from hiring them.” They also called for a national use-of-force standard similar to the one used by the LAPD, which emphasizes “de-escalation, a duty to intercede, proportional responses to dangerous incidents and a strong accountability provision.”

The unions said they want all police departments to follow San Francisco’s lead by implementing an “early warning system to identify officers who may need more training and mentoring.” They also called for departments to create websites to provide a “transparent, publicly accessible use-of-force analysis,” like the one established by the San Jose Police Department.

Transparency is essential when trust is essential. Everyone has to be able to trust that they will be treated fairly, or it’s likely they’ll respond in a way that sets off a chain of events that is life-destroying.

That’s true of both sides in any conflict.

Instead of looking backward and toppling historic statues, we should engage in a visionary exercise that imagines the world as we want it to be. Then we can measure proposed reforms and changes based on the likelihood that they’ll take us there.

The California Legislature has approved Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which if approved by voters in November would repeal Proposition 209, passed in 1996, and once again allow state institutions to use racial preferences in university admissions, hiring and contracting.

That’s a “reform” that embraces official judgment of people on the basis of race. Is that the path out of the trouble we’re in, or is that the path to more of what we’re trying to abolish?

Racism is a form of collectivism, the idea that a group identity must take precedence over the individual. The United States was founded on the idea that individuals have rights that cannot be taken away arbitrarily by the government, which means by a majority of other people.

Collectivism doesn’t end well. It leads to government control over everything. Because freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power, collectivism is the enemy of freedom.

The path out of the current turmoil doesn’t go through racial preferences or defunding the police or tearing down statues. The only path to peace and freedom is through the protection of people from each other.

For that, police are indispensable.

It’s an encouraging development that three California police unions have gone on record in support of reforms. Politicians and police departments all across the country would be well advised to listen.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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