As we took time to try and learn about the systems in place enabling widespread unchecked police brutality, it became clear that camps are divided on the best approach to bring it to an end. Without question, policies are currently in place that are designed to absolve police from accountability and consequence, and these policies must be corrected immediately. One such measure is called “qualified immunity,” which is a legal doctrine that shields police from civil lawsuits if the exact same misconduct had not been examined previously to set a precedent. (Protests have recently caused the Supreme Court to reexamine their 50-year-old stance.) Organizations like Campaign Zero have been putting in years of work to obtain valuable data on the policies of specific police departments across the country to form a comprehensive database - no easy task as you can imagine. From that data, they are pushing for 8 specific reforms to local police departments, summarized in their current campaign called “8 Can’t Wait.”
Opponents of police reform have called instead for defunding the police, a policy move that suggests that across the country, individual cities have allocated too much money in their budget towards their police force, and have asked them to handle situations that people with guns do not need to be handling. Questions have been raised, such as: do we really need armed police to handle issues involving someone who is mentally ill? Or, for that matter, to respond to a call regarding a counterfeit $20 bill? The sentiment “defund the police” is usually met with skepticism because one immediately imagines a lawless society without protection, but the reality is that efforts to defund the police do not always call for no police at all but a reduced police presence: lower headcounts, less overtime, and elimination of problematic departments that can be replaced by community-based programs that are better equipped to address these issues. It also doesn’t sound so radical when considering that major cities are routinely defunding other areas of great need like education, mental health, and social services. Sociologist and author Alex Vitale shares his position on the matter with The Atlantic, and it is a worthy listen/read. (Incidentally, Vitale's publisher is currently offering his book "The End of Policing" as a free e-book download if you're interested in a deeper dive on his thoughts on the abolishment of police.)
We are no experts in the matter and are taking time to continue to learn about the benefits and impact of both approaches. At this time, it is not completely clear to us that it must be an either/or solution. Working towards immediate budget reform across the country, demanding that cities reduce their police budgets and direct these funds instead towards housing development, youth empowerment, health care and education is obvious and we support this approach. At the same time, advocating for greater transparency, independent investigations and increased accountability for police misconduct are also of paramount importance. Nonprofits like Communities United for Police Reform fight for NYPD budget cuts while also advocating for bills that remove police secrecy laws and eliminate low-level ticketable offenses. While we see defunding the police as an entirely necessary move, we also see the importance of data-driven research and policy reform and feel that they can work hand-in-hand. We encourage you to do your own research to come to your own conclusions. With knowledge, we are all better armed to fight for justice.
In addition to creating support and opportunities for our team to continue to learn and grow in the ongoing fight for justice (more on that in a future blog post), we are also making changes to how we make charitable donations as a company. We’re going to be candid here so that we can be held accountable to our words. In years past, we’ve always aimed to give 10% of our company’s net profits; some years would end up slightly above that mark, and others a hair below. While some of these donations would be made during times of immediate need (California wildfires or Hurricane Harvey), others were made at the end of the year when we had a chance to look at our overall financial picture. What we’re realizing is that while one-time donations are certainly welcomed in times of crisis, organizations who are fighting for change need help for the long haul - especially when initial waves of emotion and support have died out.
In light of this, we will be contributing to partner organizations on a monthly basis effective immediately. Committing to monthly giving instead of just a lump sum will help us to stay vigilant: each time our account is debited, we will be reminded that we made a commitment to the cause. Our hope is that this approach will cause us to be more engaged, to follow along with how our funds are being used and to look for ways to put our time and our voice to use along with our dollars. Additionally, our commitment will mean that we are no longer tying our level of financial activism to the overall profitability of the company. In other words, it’s no longer a “if we make a lot we’ll give a lot, but if it was a tough year we are gonna have to pull back” type approach. We’re now looking at donating as another set expense on the books - it’s going to be a regular part of what we do. The fight for justice needs to be a foundational reason for why we exist moving forward.
As for who we are choosing to support, we wanted to make sure to preserve continuity with organizations we supported in the past while adding a few new ones to the mix. Institutional racism rears its head in many ways, so we felt it was important to build a well-rounded portfolio of non-profits to support moving forward that address different pieces of the puzzle. We will evaluate our stance on each partner annually to ensure that we are still in agreement with their vision and their approach, and will make adjustments as necessary. For the remainder of 2020, our portfolio includes the following:
- Bowery Mission (homelessness)
- PATH Partners (housing equity and homelessness)
- KIND (legal aid - immigration)
- Exodus (mass incarceration)
- The Marshall Project (journalism - focused on the justice system)
- Communities United for Police Reform (policy reform and defunding)
- Campaign Zero (policy analysis and reform)
If you’re not yet familiar with any of these organizations, we encourage you to visit their individual websites to learn more about the valuable and restorative work that they do. In the coming months, we’ll be looking to highlight these organizations and tell their stories in greater depth. As always, thank you for your support and for walking together with us as we try and figure out the best way to use this company to effect positive change in our local neighborhoods and our country at large. We would love to hear from you about how you are learning and growing during this pivotal time. Shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org; we’d love to chat.