I’ll support BLM, but not with money

It pains me to write this post. I have been nagged by the thought of writing this for years. I was hesitant to move forward because my criticism is directed toward a black female led organization. It’s quite a thing to stand on the other side and look up and see what could be your own reflection. I was moved to write this after watching a thoughtful video on the subject of financial transparency within BLM (specifically, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation). I decided to compile my research and get it out, once and for all.

For the past couple of years, BLMGNF has used a fiscal sponsor, Thousands Currents (formerly IDEX) to manage its finances. This is typical of new non-profits that have yet to receive 501(c)3 status, without which they are unable to receive contributions directly. Thousands Currents reports the sponsored organization’s financials with theirs. This was the only way to discern how BLMGNF has used monies received so far and the details are beyond disheartening.

The earliest statement available from FY17 on the left and the latest, FY19 on the right.

The expenses related to BLMGNF are listed under ‘fiscal project’. For FY17, BLMGNF spent $674k on salaries, $333k on fees for service (i.e, consulting fees), $369k on travel and meals. To put that into meaningful context, these costs represent 55% of expenses in comparison to the 6.9% disbursed in grants for the same year. In contrast, their sponsor, Thousand Currents, had 30% of their costs go toward grants and less than half goes toward salaries, consultant fees and travel/meals. FY19 isn’t much better with 76% of costs being represented by salaries, consulting fees and travel/meals and only about 5% issued in grants.

What Does this Mean?

Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation isn’t putting the money where their mouth is. It means that the mounting complaints about financial transparency are valid and worthy of investigation. It means that a couple of things need to happen in order for BLMGNF to regain legitimacy:

  1. Black Lives Matter Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit and it needs to behave like one. Thousands Currents stepped down as fiscal sponsor last summer and the Foundation partnered with a new one, the Tides Foundation, which means they won’t be filing their own 990 (the non profit version of a 1040). The magnitude of Tides’ operations means that BLMGNF’s financials will be enveloped within the larger organization making scrutiny close to impossible. An organization of this stature should function as a stand alone non-profit, file its own forms (as required by state and federal laws), and make those documents available on their website.
  2. Hire non profit professionals and identify them on the website. Blacklivesmatter.com lists no staff names or e-mail. Legitimacy requires transparency. Is everyone working there family and friends? We don’t know. What are the roles within the organization and how do we reach them? We don’t know. There’s only two direct contact e-mails: for press and partnerships. There should be a clear idea of who does what. A community organization should make themselves available to the community for something other than donations and interviews.
  3. Assemble a board of directors who are experienced in the goals of the organization, are independent stakeholders and have control and oversight over the organization. It appears that Patrisse Khan Cullors, BLMGNF’s executive director, is the sole decision maker for matters pertaining to BLMGNF’s funding and direction. If something happens to her, what happens to the organization? The idea of decentralized leadership is one thing, but the practice isn’t being applied to their finances.

In the meantime, individuals should stop donating to the Foundation and instead send their contributions to local charities and organizations with proven track records. If you insist on giving to BLMGNF, specify the way in which your donation is to be used. General giving allows them to use the money for any number of purposes, but once you apply a purpose they are bound to use the money for that reason. If you cannot do this, don’t give.

Despite the claim on the website (blacklivesmatter.com), BLMGNF is not the one leading the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s just the one getting paid for it.

Why it’s ok to say ‘All Lives Matter’

Don’t freak out or get pissed off, but the much maligned retort to the statement, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ can be used to propel the conversation forward instead of inflaming it. At it’s core, ‘all lives matter,’ tries to negate the focus of Black Lives Matter, which is that Black people are disproportionately affected by police abuse, but ultimately, it’s an umbrella term that suggests that the protection of everyone is integral. Ok, here’s the push: don’t make it about the words, make it about the issue. If someone says, ‘all lives matter’, then that means they agree that all citizens should be assured that a routine interaction with a police officer should be without intimidation, risk of harm or death. That means they agree that individuals should have reasonable expectation that a traffic stop will not turn fatal. It should also mean that they agree that police brutality exists, that it’s wrong and that reform is necessary. Why? Because we know there are lives affected by police brutality and since all lives matter, there can be no dissension about solving the problem.

So when Trump responds to a question about how Black people die at the hands of law enforcement with, ‘so do White people,’ the reply is, ‘so what are we going to do about it?’ Even if people question the circumstances under which citizens are killed by officers (they shouldn’t have resisted/run), ask them to study up on Tennessee v. Garner that states, ‘the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so.’ And this decision was regarding unarmed alleged felons. Would not the same logic apply to unarmed civilians who aren’t suspected of any crime?

Those who stay on the ‘all lives matter’ bandwagon, are presumably aware that issues of police abuse don’t just happen during the arrest or pursuit of alleged felons, but they can happen while cooperating, while pulling up to a gas station, while eating a sandwich on a train platform or walking a dog off a leash. Two individuals in the videos are identified as having disabilities. ‘All Lives Matter’ means we care about injustices especially when they happen to our most vulnerable populations.

‘All Lives Matter’ means that it’s important for police officers to be better trained in handling individuals with mental health problems or who are under the influence because being troubled or drunk shouldn’t cost you your life. It also means there’s support for alleviating police of certain duties that might be better handled by social workers or unarmed personnel so as not to overburdened an already stretched resource.

When people have no problem saying, ‘all lives,’ it means that everyone deserves equal protection under the law and that protection should be preserved and defended at all costs. Instances of inequity in this regard should be stamped out without hesitation.

When you can say ‘all lives matter,’ it quite simply means you don’t want to say ‘Black lives matter’, but what won’t be said will, without a doubt, one day be seen.

‘Karen’ and the New Misogyny

What did you notice about the reporting in that video? How many people confronted the man? Two. How many people are being spoken about? One. Why?

There was Permit Patty, BBQ Becky, Cornerstone Caroline and then came the catch-all term to end all catch-all terms: ‘Karen.’ White, usually middle aged and certain that white-ness confers an authority that can be wielded freely on any unsuspecting black person (or POC). And ‘Karen,’ of course, is a woman. There’s Chad and Kyle or Earl, remember him? Come to think of it, we never heard from Earl again, which likely means he received a settlement to not sue his employer for wrongful termination and as a condition of the agreement, cannot speak on the incident. A favorable outcome not offered to the favorite villain of social media: the privileged white woman.

Twitter makes quick work: names and places of work were called out. A short while later, here come the apologies. Did you notice anything about their statements? Who actually called the police? Mr. Larkins, the other man in the viral video. Shouldn’t all the fiery accusations then be squarely on his shoulders? It’s not. Why not? Maybe it’s her appearance (a hideous picture, worthy of meme-ification) or her irritatingly sweet, condescending tone or maybe there’s something to be said for our culture’s comfort in destroying women in a way that we don’t men.

Sure, there’s ‘Chad’ and ‘Kyle’, but they don’t make front page news because ‘they’ run the newspapers, TV stations and networks. White people calling the police on POC isn’t new, so why is it news? Look at the year when Permit Patty, BBQ Becky, Hotel Earl and Cornerstone Caroline stories happened: all in 2018, an election year. And now, in 2020, we have a new crop of Karens: Lisa Alexander, Alison Roman and Amy Cooper (who’s behavior was more vitriolic, IMO). More destruction of women (disguised as social justice) and really, no men in sight. Are we to believe that white women are disproportionately more likely to call the police? Sure.

We think our outrage informs what gets covered, it doesn’t. It only gives us clues as to who’s actually controlling the narrative.