Dock workers at several west coast ports held work stoppages yesterday for nearly nine minutes to honor the life of George Floyd, the black man who died two weeks ago after being held in an extended choke-hold by Minneapolis police officers.
The May 25 death of Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store, has led to nationwide protests against policy brutality. Floyd’s family held his funeral yesterday in Houston, Texas, calling for a change in police practices that have led to a spate of deaths of unarmed black citizens in recent weeks, such as Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Residents of cities around the country have held nightly vigils supporting similar goals.
Those waves of protest are now echoing through the logistics industry as well, as workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) paused in their work at several California ports for eight minutes and 46 seconds, representing the amount of time Floyd was held on the ground while an officer knelt on his neck. “Today we’re joining millions of people who are demanding justice and fundamental change,” ILWU International President Willie Adams said in a release. “The union calls on all elected officials in local, state, and the federal government to open their eyes and hearts, to initiate real change in our current system, and root-out institutionalized racism and police brutality that have plagued our country and our citizens for far too long.”
At the Port of Los Angeles, the port’s executive director, Gene Seroka, and Los Angeles Port Police Chief Tom Gazsi addressed the recent events in Minneapolis through a recent video statement of their remarks to the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. “I begin my remarks this morning with deep sadness and a very heavy heart. On Memorial Day last week, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, with seemingly three other officers standing by with no recourse to assist. This senseless tragedy once again reminds us that racism exists in our country after all these years,” Seroka said in the June 4 statement.
“In America, we reserve the right through the First Amendment to speak what’s on our minds; to demonstrate, to protest, to march, to sing, laugh, pray, or cry as we wish,” Seroka said. “And I think over the last 10 days, many of us have done all of the above or at least some. But we at some point, and this cuts very deep, we need to unify. We need unity in this country, in our great land, to aspire to be the America that we all want, and all need desperately.”
The protests over Floyd’s death also reached beyond the wharfs into the offices of BPE Global, a San Francisco-based global trade compliance consulting firm. In a statement today, BPE President Beth Pride said the company had made financial contributions to social justice charity groups such as Black Lives Matter Global Network, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Campaign Zero, and the Bail Project. “BPE Global stands with our Black community,” Pride said in the release. “We recognize that America is not right, and it will not be right until Black Lives Matter. We acknowledge the pain and suffering that Black Americans have endured for hundreds of years. It is intolerable and we commit to fighting racism. We believe a different future is possible if all of us stand up and lean in.”
Also yesterday, workers with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the United State Maritime Alliance (USMX) held peaceful protests for an hour at ports from Maine to Texas. “Our nation needs to heal, and we want to demonstrate a powerful unity among our ILA and USMX family to a grieving nation that is crying for change,” ILA International President Harold J. Daggett said in a release. “Together we will shut down our cranes and computers; power off our equipment to pause and reflect on how we can find a way to be better as individuals and a country where all citizens should be guaranteed the same respect, freedoms and liberties.”
The Teamsters union also asked its members to to kneel or stand in silence for the same period of time on June 9, saying “This will join all of us together against racism, injustice, and pay respect to George Floyd.”