To the Editor: Regarding all the letters and articles surrounding the murder of George Floyd, let me provide my perspective as a former Therapy Aide who worked at South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island for 33 years.
For all of that time, I was a union activist, and also president of the local for the last 20 years I worked there.
For most of those years I was involved in doing the union's piece in orienting all new employees. In terms of our responsibilities, I had one clear message for all new employees. Because we had power over our patients, I always told the new folks that even though the potential for violence was always there, our jobs would be much easier if we dealt with patients with love and respect. That under no circumstances was violence ever justified, much less being brutal and trying to cover it up (clear-cut self-defense was another story).
I told them if they were ever charged, we would defend them and make sure they had due process, but that they shouldn't expect us to shout about their innocence from the rafters. The good employees, which was the vast majority of them, were not ostracized for testifying as witnesses to employee misconduct against patients.
Because the thing is, everyone with any experience in mental-health work knows a bad restraint or a bad take-down from a mile away, just like every cop knows a bad shooting from a mile away, with or without video.
Setting a tone for new people that came from the union leadership from Day One went a long way to reducing not only violence but the potential for it. It was very effective. We welcomed accountability as long as we were treated fairly.
Until police and their unions (whether you think that 90 percent of cops are good and 10 percent are bad, or the opposite), find their collective voices in being able to condemn brutality and racism in their own ranks, which they've NEVER been able to do, quietly or out loud, and until police welcome being accountable to the citizens they police, they won't get the respect they feel they deserve.
CSEA Local 446 (Retired)
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