News Analysis: Union Members Living Through Ferguson Tragedy Like Everybody Else

FERGUSON, Mo. (PAI)–As the tragedy and unrest played out over the past two weeks following the police-involved shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., union members – from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Fire Fighters, the United Media Guild and others – continued to work, often putting themselves at risk, simply by virtue of doing their jobs.


Some might place them on one side or the other of this sad and volatile situation.  But the people working on the ground in Ferguson are all professionals, doing their jobs to the best of their abilities under difficult and challenging circumstances.


As the tragedy unfolds, the people of Ferguson, working people, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, find themselves in the middle of  – and the unwilling subjects of – a long overdue local and national debate over race, equality and civil rights.


“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Michael Brown,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO said in a statement last week after Brown was shot.  “His death and the anguish of the Ferguson community have rightfully become a national story.


“Despite the tragedy, there is also an opportunity to have an important discussion about issues that we have long neglected in this country,” Trumka said.  “This conversation can only be had if cooler heads prevail.  We are a nation that still remains segregated by race and class and tragedies like this highlight those divisions.  It is encouraging that the Justice Department and FBI are closely investigating this incident so that the community of Ferguson is served.”


Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis agreed.  “Our thoughts and prayers remain with Michael Brown’s family and all of the people of Ferguson whose lives have been dramatically affected by this tragedy,” he said.


Brown’s mother, a member of UFCW Local 88, is one of them. Lesley McSpadden works at the deli in Straub’s in suburban Clayton.  The local has set up a memorial fund to help the family: Michael Brown Jr. Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 52011, St. Louis, Mo., 63160.


“We join Trumka and other labor leaders who are asking for justice in this tragedy so our communities can heal. We call upon our elected leaders to ensure the rights of the people of Ferguson are respected as they continue to make their voices heard.”


While it is tempting to take sides, it is important to remember that this tragedy affects all of us, but in particular, those who live and work in Ferguson.


“We should keep our union brothers and sisters in Ferguson in our thoughts and prayers,” said Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. “They’re living through this tragedy just like everybody else is.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch photojournalist and United Media Guild (UMG) member David Carson donned a bullet-proof, with a ballistic helmet and gas mask strapped to his leg, to cover the first night of rioting in Ferguson on Aug. 10, after what had started as a peaceful demonstration erupted into violence.


Carson faced down a looter with a gun and was knocked to the ground by a different protester later in the night before a pastor in the crowd intervened.


Police, faced with an explosive and rapidly escalating situation, questioned Carson about what he was doing in the area.  “What are you doing here?  This is our job,” an officer asked him.  Carson, a veteran photojournalist who has worked at the Post-Dispatch for 14 years, and covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq replied: “This is my job also.”


“The police officers have their role to protect the public,” Carson said.  “And I have my role to record how people are responding – not just the police officers, but the crowd and people outside the community.


“I am incredibly proud of the work that the writers and photographers and everyone have done out there,” Carson said of his newspaper colleagues.  “This is the value of local journalism. This is why newspapers are around.”