Five Things President Obama Could Do to Stop the Killing

By Gordon Whitman, Deputy Director, PICO National Network

If my son - who is 14 years old, has Autism and is hearing impaired - were African-American I would be worried every time he left the house to walk to school or the library, worried that he'd have a failed encounter with a teacher, school administrator or police officer that would result in him being hurt, psychologically or physically.

That anxiety - which I know many parents of African-American and Latino children have - is by no means irrational. Whites bring a host of unthinking stereotypes into their encounters with African-Americans, including over-estimating the age of African-American boys by as much as 4-5 years, according to path breaking research on racial bias.

Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff and his colleagues have tested police officers for their tendency to not only mistakenly see African-American youngsters as adults, but to also implicitly associate them with animals - a sad but common psychological tendency for White people (note Officer Darren Wilson's description of Michael Brown as a "demon"). Researchers found that officers who show a greater tendency to dehumanize African-Americans in widely used psychological questionnaires, are more likely to have used force (defined as "takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing") against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks.

What is important about these findings is that they focus on implicit - unthinking - bias rather than the racist animus that people tend to associate with racism. Implicit bias influences the snap judgments people make without stopping and thinking. It is often more dangerous than explicitly racist behavior. For example, in simulations of potential threat situations, White police officers who were not trained specifically to understand and adjust for implicit bias, were more likely to make split-second decisions to shoot African-Americans who are unarmed than Whites holding guns.

The consequences of implicit bias are devastating. Young African-American males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young White men. Twenty-one times!

The young people who have sustained three months of protests in St. Louis County against the killing of Michael Brown have given the country a great gift by focusing our collective attention on this epidemic. Protests against police abuse are spreading across the country. Police killings that would have been ignored six months ago are ending up on the front page of newspapers.

We are at a watershed moment in the battle against racial profiling. We have much to do to achieve racial equity and healing in America - a long agenda of changes in our economy, schools and political system - but we have the power now to end the epidemic of police killings of people of color. We know how to systematically reduce implicit bias in police departments and to break the link between stereotypes held by police officers, and use of excessive force against African-Americans and Latinos. Indeed, there are police departments that have sharply reduced officer-involved shootings by using research-based practices.

Here are five things that President Obama could do right now to end the epidemic in 2015 and create a level of security and peace of mind for young people and their families.

1. Mandatory reporting

The Department of Justice collects reams of data from local law enforcement agencies, but does not require that they submit data on incidents where police officers shoot people. Of the 17,000 police departments in the country, only 750 self-report data to the federal government. Step number one in ending the epidemic is for President Obama to require all law enforcement agencies to report on police shootings. That in turn will help the Department of Justice and the public determine which police departments have the greatest problems.

2. Withholding federal funding from police departments with poor records

The President should issue an executive order requiring that Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security withhold federal funding from local police departments that either do not report data on police shootings, have high rates of excessive force or engage in racial profiling. The Federal Government provides billions of dollars in funding and equipment to local police departments. It should condition this support on their willingness to train and hold officers accountable for not engaging in racial profiling.

3. Body cameras

Michael Brown's family has called for all police officers in America to be equipped with body-worn video cameras. Research shows that these cameras have a dramatic impact on reducing use of force by police officers and civilian complaints against officers. One study found a 50 percent reduction in use of force and a 90 percent reduction in citizen complaints.

4. Training in Implicit Bias

The Center for Policing Equity and other organizations work with police departments to reduce the impact of bias on policing. It turns out that implicit bias can be tamped down or even eliminated if we are willing to take it seriously. When people are made to be conscious of how implicit bias influences their behavior, and when they take the time to build relationships with people who are of different races, they become less biased. We should make training in implicit bias and policing a mandatory requirement for all police departments.

5. Ceasefire violence prevention

As we work to reduce police use of excessive force and killings, we also need to make sure that police departments are using best practices to reduce all gun violence in communities. As with excessive use of force by police, we have ample evidence that police departments can bring down rates of gun violence throughout a community, by applying research-based practices.

For example, the Boston Ceasefire program has had a significant impact on reducing gun violence in cities across the U.S. This program focuses policing on the small number of people in a community responsible for most of the violence, gives them a choice of getting off the street and into jobs, and engages clergy and other community leaders in establishing norms against violence through night walks and trained anti-violence street workers.

Ultimately, we know what to do. Whether we act is a moral test of the value we place on Black lives.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
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.