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.

June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

Find More By:

News type: