March 23, 2012
March 20, 2012 – What does the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida have to do with nonprofits? Everything. It strikes us that the nonprofit sector’s obsessive fascination with business models, market incentives, social enterprise, and fundraising is leaving a core part of what nonprofits do on the sidelines—the nonprofit focus on protecting (or sometimes creating) rights. Nonprofits ought to be paying attention to the trajectory of the upcoming investigation of George Zimmerman, who told police that he shot Martin.
If you don’t know about this case, here are some quick facts. On February 26th, Martin and his dad were visiting with his dad’s girlfriend, who lived in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., outside of Orlando. During halftime of the basketball game they were watching, Martin left to go to the 7-11 for snacks. It was raining, so Trayvon, who happened to be African American, was wearing a hoodie with the hood over his head. On his way back from the store, having bought a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman , saw Martin from his car and called 911, telling the dispatcher that Martin “look(ed) like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something.”
Although told by 911 to do nothing, the 28-year-old Zimmerman, carrying a concealed nine millimeter semiautomatic handgun, apparently got into a confrontation with Trayvon, who it should be pointed out did not have a criminal record (unlike Zimmerman, who had been arrested several years ago for felony charges of battery against a police officer and for resisting arrest with violence). On the 911 tape, you can hear what sounds like someone pleading for his life, screaming, and then a gunshot, which presumably killed Martin. Zimmerman wasn’t arrested because he claimed he was shooting in self-defense, a protected act under Florida’s very broadly construed “Stand Your Ground” law. Because of that law, local prosecutors said they didn’t have enough evidence to indict Zimmerman, though after national protests, the federal government’s Department of Justice is now going to intervene and look at the case.
Some in the nonprofit sector moved to bring attention to Martin’s death. Change.org gathered 450,000 signatures on a petition calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, which may have played a big role in sparking the DOJ investigation and there are increasing calls for the resignation of Sanford, Fla. Police Chief Bill Lee. A Million Hoodie March was scheduled in New York City yesterday. With the help of the nonprofit sector, the “Stand Your Ground” law enacted by Florida and 21 other states should really be on trial. The scary “shoot first” law, combined with the voluntary vigilante nature of neighborhood watch programs in private, upscale, exclusive communities, may well amount to “structural racism.”
NPQ hopes that this case will remind us all how vigilant this sector needs to be on issues of human and civil rights. If not us, then who?—Rick Cohen, Nonprofit Quarterly
April 13, 2010
Experience from around the country shows that discussing racial inequity and promoting racial justice are particularly challenging today. Some Americans have long been skeptical about the continued existence of racial discrimination and unequal opportunity. But with the historic election of an African American president, that skepticism is more widespread and more vocal than ever. President Obama’s important political victory, in other words, threatens to eclipse the large body of evidence documenting the continuing influence of racial bias and other barriers to equal opportunity. The current economic crisis, moreover, has fostered a welcome discussion of socioeconomic inequality, but often to the exclusion of racial injustice.
This memo sets out 10 principles that can help facilitate productive communications on racial justice problems and solutions.
April 1, 2010
Every year, the National Urban League issues its report on the State of Black America, and it almost inevitably shows that black Americans fare worse than whites in almost every measure of socioeconomic well-being. Black workers and households are poorer, less secure, and more vulnerable to the volatility of market forces than their white counterparts.
Frank Rich, as always, does his trade honors in Sunday’s NYT column on the real source of Tea Party anger. (The column pairs nicely with Richard Kim’s dissection of Tea Party conspiracy theories in The Nation this week.) But understanding this movement’s emotional and mental core is only part of the battle. We also have to respond to it, and that’s where progressive and Democratic Party leadership alike continue to fail. Progressives consistently meet tea partiers with sneering outrage. What we need, with increasing urgency, is leadership that explicitly aligns working-class white folks and people of color.
March 30, 2010
States with Greater Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Higher Unemployment Rates Received Less Recovery Funds in 2009
An analysis by Advancement Project of state ARRA fund allocations in
2009 and their diversity levels reveals a statistically significant inverse
relationship between the per capita level of ARRA funds and diversity. In
other words, states with greater racial and ethnic diversity received less
ARRA funds in 2009.
July 29, 2009
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 (including lone Republican Lindsey Graham) to 6 to bring the Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination to the floor of the Senate. With 60 Democratic senators, her confirmation as the first Hispanic and third woman is virtually guaranteed.
It could have been another teachable moment. Just as the OJ Simpson trial could have been an opportunity to examine the intersection of race and class and the criminal justice system, the Henry Louis Gates arrest could have sparked a conversation about black men and the police. Instead, we’ve become distracted by he said, he said, he said noise. What did the professor say, what did the officer say, and what did the president say and then re-say? At this point, does any of that matter anymore? No, not when the persistent issue remains – there is a fundamental mistrust between black men and the police that too often can lead to a dangerous and volatile confrontation. It’s a mistrust that perpetuates a ‘don’t snitch’ mentality among inner city minority communities. It’s a mistrust that makes it damn near deadly for a brown or black man to be pulled over driving in the wrong neighborhood. And it’s a mistrust that can lead to an unarmed man being shot down in front of his home or on the night before his wedding.
Those who sympathize with Gates seem to be responding to generations of disrespect and hostility towards minorities at the hands of one too many white police officers. Those who see the story from Crowley’s perspective look at incidents like this as a contained event separate from any broader context. With both sides so steeped in who is right or wrong (and the media gleefully fanning the flames), once again we seem to be taking the easy way and focusing on the superficial and obvious. Any therapist will tell you that it’s impossible to truly heal a wound (in this case, the one inflicted by racism) and move forward without doing hard and painful introspection to figure out how you got to this point and why these things keep happening. Unfortunately, we as a collective are once again going to avoid having that serious and deliberate come-to –Jesus moment, and then when something “racial” happens again, we are going to wonder why these things keep happening to us.