SOLIDARITY FAIL: The police union that tried to shame the homeless with social media

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a New York police union, recently launched a social media campaign called 'Peek-A-Boo We See You Too.' The union asked people to use their smartphones to surveil New Yorkers in the act of committing “quality-of-life offences” against those better off.

In an email from President Ed Mullins, union members were invited to photo document people without housing doing offensive things like “lying in our streets” and committing “aggressive panhandling.” There was also a request for photos of people urinating outdoors or possibly conducting “open air drug activity.” 

Many of the 240 photos uploaded to the union’s Flickr account show people attempting to eat, sleep and live in dignity amidst obvious poverty. Colleen Curry at VICE News reported that the campaign “represents to some law enforcement experts an attempt by police officers to harness the power of social media” particularly after a year “in which they have often been the focus of controversy.”

Thankfully, a campaign that encourages union members to treat the homeless in a dehumanizing manner that compromises their privacy (and potentially constitutes harassment) is being met with vocal disgust:

UPDATE: On Friday the New York Daily News reported Flickr deleted the union's photo sharing account.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association's president, who has used words like 'nincompoop' to describe current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, has framed the campaign as a means of highlighting a wider set of problems including “the diminishing of our hard-earned and well-deserved public perception of the safest large city in America." The De Blasio-hating Fox News have also mirrored the same right-wing view of the marginalized as violating the rights of others to access a particular "quality of life". The union's conduct also comes at a time when Black labour organizers are calling on the US labour movement to look critically at police union conduct. 

SOLIDARITY WIN: Organizing to hold POLICE unions accountable

The UAW Local 2865, the union representing academic workers and graduate students at the University of California recently issued a call for America's largest labour body - the AFL-CIO - to end its affiliation with the International Union of Police Associations. The call for disaffiliation is made on the grounds that the organization is "inimical to both the interests of labor broadly, and Black workers in particular." 

Historically and contemporarily, police unions serve the interests of police forces as an arm of the state, and not the interests of police as laborers. Instead, their “unionization” allows police to masquerade as members of the working-class and obfuscates their role in enforcing racism, capitalism, colonialism, and the oppression of the working-class.

USC Student-Workers Association

Both the criticism of the SBU's social media campaign as well as the ongoing work of racialized and young workers at UAW Local 2865 bring to light ways people can work through their unions to disrupt uncritical collusion with official allies that actively dismiss, perpetuate and criminalize oppression.