Breaking: Ferguson Activists Meet with President Obama to Demand an End to Police Brutality Nationwide

Ferguson Action, December 1, 2014.

It has been one week since a St. Louis County grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michal Brown, an unarmed teenager, six times in the head, chest and arms. Communities nationwide have responded to the miscarriage of justice by carrying out more than 150 sustained, coordinated and intense protest actions that show no signs of letting up. Primarily led by young people of color, the continued sit-ins, highway shutdowns and walkouts have commanded the White House’s attention. 

Today President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder met with seven Black and Latino organizers – from Ferguson, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Florida; and New York City – who have been leading some of the ongoing actions to disrupt a status quo that is intolerable.

“The president requested this meeting because this is a movement that cannot be ignored,” said Ashley Yates, a co-founder of the St. Louis-based organization, Millennial Activists United. “We have two sets of laws in America – one for young Black and Brown people, and one for the police. We are sick and tired of our lives not mattering, and our organized movement will not relent until we see justice.”

The young leaders conveyed the experience of a traumatized community in Ferguson, where police have terrorized peaceful protesters with pointed guns, rubber bullets, chemical agents, bean bags and menacing threats. They further discussed the routine harassment and violence that many police departments inflict on countless communities of color across America, and their demands for the federal government to hold police departments that use excessive force accountable.

“We attended this meeting to make it clear to President Obama that we are in crisis, and police officers must be held accountable,” said Rasheen Aldridge, director of Young Activists United St. Louis. “It is a crisis when a Black American can get locked up for traffic fines, but police officers are rarely prosecuted for killing unarmed children. Black communities have suffered under racially biased policing and unconstitutional law enforcement policies for far too long. This has to stop.”

Among other avenues for change, the group’s demands include:

  • The federal government using its power to prosecute police officers that kill or abuse people.
  • Removing local district attorneys from the job of holding police accountable, and instead having independent prosecutors at the local level charged with prosecuting officers.
  • The establishment of community review boards that can make recommendations for police misconduct, instead of allowing police departments to police themselves.
  • Defunding local police departments that use excessive force or racially profile. Instead of having the Department of Justice (DOJ) wholesale giving more than $250 million to local police departments annually, DOJ should only fund departments that agree to adopt DOJ best practices for training and meaningful community input.
  • The demilitarization of local police departments.
  • Investing in programs that provide alternatives to incarceration, such as community-led restorative justice programs and community groups that educate people about their rights.

“In previous remarks, the president has used language that criminalizes our movement, lumping in the vast majority of peaceful protesters with violence and bad actors,” said Brittany Packnett, a St. Louis educator and activist. “In our meeting, we explained that most violence in our community is coming from the police department, and something needs to be done about it.”

“As young people of color who are often criminalized for our mere existence, we are the experts in how our communities are treated by law enforcement,” said Phillip Agnew, executive director of the Florida-based organization, the Dream Defenders. “We accepted the president’s invitation so that we could present our expertise and needed policy changes to the nation’s top leader.”

“Today we presented great models for policing alternatives,” said Jose Lopez, lead organizer for Make the Road New York. “These include restorative justice programs that promote alternatives to incarceration – work that the federal government should be investing in, instead of funding the further militarization of police who often patrol our streets like commandos in a war zone.”

“If police departments are not committed to community input and oversight, and refuse to train officers appropriately, they should be completely defunded,” said St. Louis-based hip-hop artist T-Dubb-O. “Funding body cameras and other tactics to review police actions is a start, but that doesn’t solve the problem of too many officers who see us as ‘demons’ and not members of a community. Until we deal with that, we can’t move forward.”

“We appreciate that the president wanted to meet with us, but now he must deliver with meaningful policy,” said James Hayes, political director for the Ohio Students Association. “We are calling on everyone who believes that Black lives matter to continue taking to the streets until we get real change for our communities.”

Attendees included:

  •  Ashley Yates, Millennial Activists United
  • Rasheen Aldridge, Young Activists St. Louis
  • Brittany Packnett, St. Louis educator and activist
  • T-Dubb-O, St. Louis hip-hop artist
  • James Hayes, Ohio Students Association
  • Phillip Agnew, Dream Defenders
  • Jose Lopez, Make the Road New York      

Visit their website.

August 14, 2019

Identify. Describe. Dismantle. Repeat.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, writes about calling out and then rejecting systems and institutions rooted in racism as a way to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist. This post was originally published here on Medium.

Nicky was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington, is a member of NFG.


 

Nicky GorenRecently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.

We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.

A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.

We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.

White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.

I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.

In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Let’s keep going.

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August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.