Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Unions

For twenty years in New York City, cops have gotten a free ride. In that time, we have had two Republican mayors--Giuliani served eight of those years and Bloomberg the last twelve. And for those twenty years, the right leaning PBA has been sitting pretty, while the UFT has been systematically attacked and disenfranchised. Cops are seen as heroes, which teachers are seen as incompetent bunglers who probably aren't qualified to be in the classroom.

How did this happen?

There is no doubt that our respective unions played a role. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew have had a single strategy--to get a "seat at the table" in order to--unsucessfully--get a say in how teachers are treated. Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, isn't interested in a seat at the table. If he doesn't get what he wants, he upsets the table and throws things into chaos regardless of who he hurts.

The cops loved Giuliani (most of the time). Rudy was seen as a law-and-order guy, and an ardent defender of the cops. He was so ardent, in fact, that he supported the police when they tortured Abner Louima by sodomizing Louima with a nightstick. As in the Eric Garner case, Louima was accused of resisting arrest, so as far as Giuliani was concerned, he got what was coming to him. Guiliani continued his support of the police throughout the Amadou Diallo case, in which Diallo, an unarmed black man, was shot at 41 times and struck with 19 bullets. Although four police officers were charged with second degree murder, they were all acquitted. Giuliani presided over this mess, and empowered police who were so inclined to act with reckless abandon, a tradition that still exists today.

Giuliani claims that he made the streets safer by harassing small time criminals, but the truth is that crime dropped more dramatically under David Dinkins than it ever did under Giuliani, and crime dropped nationwide during his tenure due to factors that had nothing to do with Rudy's policies.

I saw Rudy this morning on TV, boasting that the city needs to return to a mayor (presumably like himself) who knows about security. Does anyone besides me remember that he became mayor immediately after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and was in office when the second attack hit? Or that he decided to place the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in World Trade 7, despite it being an obvious target for a terrorist attack? With mayors like him, we all need flak jackets.

Bloomberg was no better. He continued the "Broken windows" policies of his predecessor. Furthermore, he championed the Stop and Frisk policy that was so incredibly racist and divisive that a court ruled it was "indirect racial profiling". This policy, along with "broken widows" before it, made the police feel that slapping a chokehold on unarmed black men like Eric Garner was not only permissible, but their duty.

For the last twenty years, the police have had a mayor who has had their backs no matter what they did. Is it any wonder that they now revolt because we have a mayor who respects the rights of all people of this city, including the poor and minorities? Is it any wonder the police feel compelled to literally turn their backs on a mayor who dares to speak the obvious truth that young black men need to be wary when stopped by the police, because young black men are shot by police at a rate 21 times that of young white men?

Speaking of which, police officers are paid or offered time off to attend funerals of slain officers, and I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with them publicly turning their backs on de Blasio while technically on the clock. I despised Joel Klein, but had he visited my classroom, I would never have turned my back on him and refused to teach. I would have done my job as a professional. Turning my back on him would have led to charges of insubordination and my removal from the classroom.

Why is it OK for cops to make political statements during funerals? Why on earth would they want to turn the wake of one of their own into a media frenzy? What kind of disrespect does it show to the family of Officer Ramos that his funeral was transformed into a political event?

So, to turn back to the main topic here, how did our union, and teachers generally, fare during the 20 year period that cops had carte blanche in this city?

Not so well. Giuliani began the current trend toward privatization of our schools and supported a voucher system. Bloomberg was even worse, taking control of the schools and destroying community school boards. He instituted, or at least tried to institute, virtually every one of the "reforms" that his rich hedge fund buddies supported, and pushed especially hard to promote charters and remove teachers from classrooms on trumped up charges.

So basically, for the past 20 years, we have had a city which used a blunt force system of government. Let the schools be damned, as long as we are locking up people for minor offenses. Why educate children when you can wait a few years and lock them up?

Now, we have a mayor who has the opposite approach. He wants the police to do their jobs, but nothing more. He wants them to respect the rights of the citizens of this city and not treat people of color like criminals through stop and frisk. One of his first acts as mayor--and one of his major campaign promises--was to offer universal pre-K so that all kids would have an opportunity to succeed in school and we could perhaps slow down the dropout-to-prison pipeline that plagues our poor communities.

What prompted me to write this was a perusal of my own Facebook feed, which is made up, unsurprisingly, mostly of teachers. I can't tell you how many have changed their profile pictures to a thin blue line in support of the police and who are blasting de Blasio. Really, fellow teachers? Is it really that hard for you to stand up for a man who has supported our union and treated teachers with respect? Is it that hard for you stand up for a man who has made educating our children--ALL our children--his number one priority?

After twenty years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, it's easy to see why the PBA is upset. It's not justifiable, but it is understandable.

And after those same twenty years of being beaten down by those same two men, it's hard to see why teachers aren't rallying around our current mayor.

You know what I want to see? I want to see Mulgrew hug de Blasio around the neck in a show of support. Hell, I wouldn't object if he kissed him on the lips.

To be clear, I support unions, including the PBA, But I believe that the police are a necessary evil that we must keep in check in a civilized society, while I see public education as a necessary good that should be embraced by all.


Anonymous said...

Walcott came to visit my school a couple of years ago. He was visiting classrooms on my lunch break. I left the building to go get pizza and this was my way of "turning my back" on him. He was visiting classrooms and gave each teacher an apple. On that day I choose eat a greasy slice of pizza rather than take an apple from the devil. I have nothing but respect for Lynch and the PBA. I would give anything to have a union leader like Lynch as opposed to Mulgrew who could care less for his own members. Cops support each other and their union supports them. On the other hand, in our schools teachers are now competing against each other to raise HEDI scores. I have been teaching a long time and I have never seen such low morale within the teaching profession.

Mr. Talk said...

Lynch, or someone like him, would be disastrous for the UFT. Because of the beating we have taken the last 2 decades from Giuliani and Bloomberg have lessened the respect for teachers among the public. The canonization of cops following 9/11 has given them bulletproof status that teachers simply do not enjoy. That being said, we need a union leader who unites the membership and gets them involved in the issues that affect them.

Bronx ATR said...

Are you nuts?! The city was safer with Dinkins?! Did you ride the trains or work in Crown Heights during the riots? I did. People were leaving the city in droves. You could get an apartment anywhere in the city for less than the price of a small house in a marginal area of Yonkers. Bands of young men would walk through trains assaulting white senior citizens. Much of the crap that went on then was unreported by the media. The cops were afraid and did very little to nothing. Much like what they will be doing now. You needed a gun if you were a jogger or wanted to stroll through Times Square. Teachers allowed themselves to become increasingly marginalized and eventually vilified via Weingarten and her mismanagement. Lynch is a great union leader- I wish he were ours.

NYCDOEnuts said...

I think the reference is that the drop in crime began under Dinkins. History supports that. The math there says that if Dinkins remained mayor for 20 years, crime would have dropped just as much. Anything less is Orwellian double think, plain and simple.

Riots, on the other hand, cannot happen if 80% of community members are in in jail or on parole, so the reference you made points to absolutely nothing just. It's just more double think.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. My Facebook feed of unconditional police support (also from many teachers) has been driving me crazy. You expressed perfectly how I feel about this and I will be sharing this post.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are disrespected because we have no balls - literally it is a predominantly female profession. Teachers should have shown a pair when we were first vilified instead of just complaining. We needed to elect a union leader who wants the best for the union members and not himself. Some police may be evil but the majority are trying to survive in the jungle they are supposed to defend. Why is it so difficult to understand - obey the law, don't resist arrest and stay safe. DeBlasio is going to ruin this city. And I laugh when you mention Dinkins who told the cops to stand down and allow the rioting and looting of a neighborhood!