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Challenging Racial and Economic Injustice


April 14, 2016: Brooklyn, NY - What does the death of Akai Gurley have to do with the Fight for $15 and poor communities? These all relate more than you think. In April, the “Fight for 15” campaign’s global day of action in New York City focused not only on raising the federal minimum wage and gaining the right to unionize, but also on racial injustice brought on by poverty – and poverty wages – and the larger issues of racial inequality and racial injustice in the United States. The case of Akai Gurley, and his death, the focus of a mid-day rally in Brooklyn, is a notable example.

In November 2014, Akai Gurley was fatally shot by police officer Peter Liang, who was patrolling a dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project. Liang was convicted in February 2016 of manslaughter and official misconduct for firing the shot that ricocheted off a wall and struck Gurley, standing a floor below, in the heart.

The morning of the day of the demonstration, Liang stood trial for manslaughter and sentencing on whether or not he would receive jail time. The Jewish Labor Committee, along with the New York City Central Labor Council, Justice for Akai Gurley, and Black Lives Matter came out to support the family of Akai Gurley, connecting this call for justice with the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 / per hour, and the right to unionize.

It is often shown that where there poverty there is a high crime rate. The current federal minimum wage of well under $10, coupled with a tough job market, especially for people with less than a college education and relatively few marketable skills, poverty is often the result; . The Pink Houses, notoriously a place with both crime and poverty, is where Gurley lived and lost his life. Far too many of those that live in poor neighborhoods have dealt with police harassment and brutality. Had he - or others living in low-income housing developments such as these had a decent, living, wage, it is doubtful that there would be such a high crime rate; police officers would have less reason to assume that many in the area are criminals, are dangerous. Perhaps Akai Gurley, and too many like him, would still be alive today.

POSTSCRIPT: Raising the minimum wage to a living wage is only the part of an effective effort to end racial and economic injustices in our society. Even as the Brooklyn Supreme Court has ruled that Peter Liang will not face jail time for the death of Akai Gurley, we must continue to make our voices heard, and continue to fight for decent wages, decent living conditions, and racial equality. The Jewish Labor Committee will continue to support the end of these injustices.