Juneteenth: The struggle for freedom and workers’ right to thrive | Opinion

June 18, 2021 6:01 am

Eric Willis (center) with CTUL’s Black worker committee Future Fighters, posing at a march, Juneteenth 2020 in south Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of CTUL.

On a cold day in December 2018, I was helping my son and daughter get ready for school. It was early in the morning and my kids had missed the school bus. They were running late and we were trying to get all their stuff together.

Without any warning, a flashbang went off in the living room of my home in north Minneapolis and my door was smashed down by the police. The flashbangs set my shoes on fire and blew the floor apart two feet away from where my son was standing. He was 6 years old at the time. I had to snatch my son and throw him out of the way. My daughter would not stop crying because she believed they were gonna kill me. She just kept saying, “Please don’t kill my dad.”

The Minneapolis Police Department and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had a joint task force looking for my brother, who was already in custody in another state. MPD and ATF raided my home, my brother’s grandmother’s home, and the home of one of my cousins who lives around the corner from me. They destroyed my property, traumatized my children — and they didn’t find anything. It’s an experience that neither my children nor I will ever forget.

Who is going to pay for my son’s therapy? What justification do we get out of this? Is somebody fired? Is someone going to come talk to my children and tell them this experience was not supposed to happen to them? Where do we go from here? I received nothing.

In 2020, MPD restricted no-knock warrants, but when I hear the stories of Dolal Idd, Daunte Wright, and Winston Smith, it’s clear small reforms aren’t enough. It keeps happening. It could’ve been me.

This Saturday is Juneteenth, a celebration of Black people’s freedom from slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is the date in which Black folks in Galveston, Texas, finally received the news in 1865 that emancipation of slavery had happened in the United States. Black Visions and Future Fighters — a committee of Black workers within Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha’s (CTUL) — are hosting our second annual Juneteenth celebration at Phillips Park in south Minneapolis, just down the street from the site of the police murder of George Floyd.

We should use this celebration to see the link between liberation from a militarized police force and the rights of workers to earn a fair wage in humane conditions. The city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota, for instance, are together receiving billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 related economic relief. Instead of throwing money at a policing system that militarizes our neighborhoods and traumatizes Black communities, Minneapolis should fund our communities, invest in worker protections, housing and health care — the things that actually keep us safe. Until then, we still aren’t free.

The Juneteenth celebration is called “Til We’re All Free,” because our communities are being pitted against each other by corporate interests. This is a method to drive a wedge between our solidarity. The wealthiest at the top are enjoying record-setting income and wealth through our displacement. Workers’ wages are being stolen daily, many frontline workers didn’t receive paid sick days or quarantine pay through the pandemic, and people of color are brutalized by the police and immigration system. It’s all connected and we need to unite.

I dream of a Minneapolis where people only have to work one job and where parents can spend time with their kids instead of always going to work or living in fear of the police. Workers deserve the freedom to live a life without fear of police violence and workers deserve the right to be paid a wage we can actually live on.

No parent should have to work two or three jobs just to take care of their family. No parent should live in fear of a senseless police raid. No parent should be forced to go into work when their kids are sick. We need a city where people can flourish, be free, and be paid a living wage.

Studies show that more wealth is stolen through the wage theft of workers than all of the robberies and petty street theft combined. Meanwhile, Minneapolis has hundreds of police officers armed in the streets to protect property, and only a handful of wage theft investigators. Whose wealth are we protecting when wages are stolen from workers everyday, but we spend hundreds of millions militarizing the city against the people. The city must address the root problem, and policing cannot do that.

True freedom is when people can get the resources that they need. If parents could spend more time with their families, if everyone had access to mental health care, if everyone had an affordable place to live, jobs that pay, and we invested in the social programs that actually keep communities safe instead of a policing system that continues the legacy of slavery, then Minneapolis would be a completely different city. Then we could all be free.

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Eric Willis

Eric Willis is a father who lives in north Minneapolis and is a leader with Freedom Fighters, a committee of Black workers within Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), which is a non-profit in Minneapolis where workers organize and educate each other to fight for better conditions and a voice in the workplace and the community.