U's -Turn Needed

06-14-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

No doubt most of us are still scratching our heads asking, “how did this happen?” How was it that a medieval-like Pandemic hit in 2020 with all our Public Health and Medical sophistication? And how was it that racism and police brutality are still part of our justice system and our society at large after years of pushing civil rights forward and going over policing practices and policies like the Use of Force policy with a fine-tooth comb again and again?

The long answer is the human condition, specifically that which Christians label as original sin. It’s right there at the beginning of the Bible. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, sin begins to divide the human family, Cain kills his brother Abel and every murder since is just a variation on an old theme. The solution is the Gospel: Repent and Believe. Repent of hatred for your brother and believe that God is Father of us all and we are all brothers and sisters. Admittedly it's a long-term strategy and not so much a quick fix.

A quicker fix is to address two issues that block real reform both in policing and in education (a lack of a good education increases your chances of involvement in the criminal justice system). And it pains me to say this as someone who grew up in a very pro-Labor Union family, but two of the biggest obstacles to reform are the Police unions and the Teachers unions. The officer who killed George Floyd had multiple complaints against him about abusive behavior and City officials knew he was a problem. But because of the collective bargaining agreement with the City, which carve out special protections which shield police from many of the same laws they are charged to enforce, the City could not remove him from the force or even assign him to a desk job away from the public. Unfortunately for George Floyd he was the arresting officer. The same City officials who decry police brutality also have their campaign coffers filled with funds from the Police Union, hard to bite the hand that feeds you. And when you do, this is what happens:

Cecilia Iglesias was a City Council member in Santa Ana, California. I say was, because she has recently been subject to a recall election and removed from office. Why? Because after several incidents of police abuse in her City she called for a Police Oversight Commission. The Police union declared her reform an “attack on public safety” and her fellow council members, all backed and funded by the Police Union, voted down the Oversight Commission. After that the Union President announced a Recall Petition against Iglesias because of her “anti-police” policies and funded it to the tune of $500,000. The voters, mostly Latino, voted her out of office. So, who wants to change the system? Many elected officials will say, “but I have to be part of the system to change the system” but if you take the campaign money to become part of the system you can’t change the system because the system will kick you out of the system for trying to change the system. Just ask former Councilwoman Iglesias.

If you, as a voter want to change the system, then ask every candidate running for office or re-election: will you commit to not taking campaign funds from the Police Union? And will you agree to change the collective bargaining labor agreements so that rogue police officers can promptly be removed from the force or charged with a crime? And will you insist on changing the labor agreements to allow fellow officers to arrest an officer who is committing abusive acts? And will you demand a Civilian Police Oversight Commission so that complaints can be investigated by an independent board rather than as is current practice for the police to investigate themselves?

The same pretty much goes for the Teachers Unions. Too many of our schools excel in failure. The elected officials charged with oversight of public schools can’t make significant reforms because of the labor agreements they have signed off on which prevent them from removing teachers for cause or poor performance. And funding is not the issue any longer. The Baltimore School District has the highest per pupil funding in the country and is still an abominable failure. Also, how can an elected official support School Choice if they are taking money from the Teachers Union? Wouldn't it be nice to hear someone running for office say, “I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure our children get a great education even if it means losing the support of the Teachers Union”? I always find it curious that in large metro areas some suburban schools excel and the same schools a few miles away in the inner city fail miserably yet Catholic Schools whether in the suburbs or the inner cities perform equally well.

The details of the labor contracts for Police and Teachers make it almost impossible to dismiss rouge officers and bad teachers/ administrators but it also sullies the careers of the police and teachers that work hard each day and fulfill their duties with integrity.

Elected officials and unions have an incestuous relationship. This relationship creates a corrupt system that keeps bad cops and bad teachers on the job and is fueled by money from Police and Teachers unions that power the campaigns of the politicians that in turn, renders them impotent to change the system, purge it of racism and end police brutality and failing schools.

As Christians we have to commit to the long-term strategy of changing hearts and minds and as voters, we have to commit to not voting for candidates who are owned by unions and other special interest groups.

Love,

Fr. John B.

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