Unarmed and Black: Philanthropy’s Challenge to Address an Old, Sad Story

Too many of us are hurting as we watch the unfortunate demise of our community by those who are charged to “protect and serve”.  Eric Garner died on July 17th in N.Y. as a result of an illegal chokehold. Three weeks later, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year-old who was about to begin college,  loses his life in Ferguson, MO; shot dead by a police officer.  We are learning about another case coming out of Los Angeles – a young man named Ezell Ford, again, unarmed, gunned-down by police just this week.  Add these names to those of Sean Bell, Amaduo Diaollo, Trayvon Martin, and on, and on.  There is no public data base of unarmed Black males shot dead by police, but it is sure time to consider the need for one – this is long overdue.  The Root.com, to their credit, has begun to keep such a resource, but we need more.

It’s the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and as I watch the news of what is happening in Ferguson, MO, I keep thinking, “All that’s missing are the dogs and hoses.”  This is occurring while so many of us are engaged in the field of philanthropy on strategies to improve outcomes for men and boys of color.  But there comes a time when you want to drop the proposed agenda, forgo the presentations and REALLY talk about what is happening to Black families in this country. We need the important investments in early childhood learning, addressing school discipline and jobs and job development.  But tell me, who is focusing on the police?  Who is helping Black families deal with the trauma resulting from such injustice?  There is good work happening across the country to address the senseless killing of Black males at the hands of other Black males, but when do we put “two and two together” and recognize that when it is okay for police officers to kill unarmed Black men, they feel it’s okay to kill each other?

It’s time for philanthropy to step up – and we can in so many ways:

  1. We love data – so let’s start there.  We need investments in building public, accurate databases on the number of unarmed Black people killed by the police.  While we may know the names of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, there are so many more names and cases that we do not know (just check out The Root.com’s brief data base of 20 cases).  Whether this happens at the national level, state level or in communities, we have to be more intentional about collecting this information so we can appropriately and proactively respond.
  2. Grantmaking organizations can use their convening power to organize discussions in their regions about community/police relationships.  While this may seem unorthodox, it is a necessary step – only though healing and reconciliation can we move forward.
  3. More investments are needed in Black communities to help young people and families navigate public systems that repeatedly devalue our lives. We cannot stay silent on this issue. In addition to the critical investments in health, education and jobs, more resources must be targeted to building on the notions of self-help, community organizing and civic engagement.  This also includes resources that provide families with legal assistance to hold public systems accountable.

I am sure there are other things we can do. The challenge is for philanthropy to expand its current work in this area to address this old issue that for some reason, seems new given the current news coverage. We have the resources we need to do so.

In solidarity,

Susan's Signature

Susan Taylor Batten, President & CEO