What this Black Lives Matter lawsuit will cost the movement

A few days ago, the venerable Pew Research Center released a report summarizing black American opinions, specifically our thoughts on racial inequality and the prospects for systemic social change.

Among other things, it found that 4 in 10 of us believe Black Lives Matter has “done the most to help Black people in recent years”.

Only 17% named the NAACP. Another 13% opted for black churches. Only 6% voted for the Congressional Black Caucus. And only 3% pointed to the National Urban League.

In fact, for every demographic subgroup Pew surveyed — the highly educated and the less educated, the rich and the poor, the left and the right, registered and unregistered voters — Black Lives Matter was their number one choice.

That was before the implosion, of course.

On Thursday, activists from Black Lives Matter’s 26 official chapters sued their nonprofit sister organization, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, for mismanagement, self-dealing and general financial misconduct.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, names Shalomyah Bowers, an Oakland-based political attorney and consultant who joined the board of directors of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation earlier this year.

Organized under the umbrella organization Black Lives Matter Grassroots, chapters claim he was “a middleman turned usurper” who refused to adhere to a transition plan to dissolve the foundation and hand its power back to activists. Instead, they claim, he went “rogue” and helped steal more than $10 million in donations.

“While BLM leaders and movement workers have been on the streets risking their lives,” the lawsuit states, “Mr. Bowers stayed in his comfortable offices and devised a fraud and misrepresentation program to break the tacit contract between donors and BLM.”

In a statement, Bowers and the rest of the three-member panel called the allegations “defamatory and unrealistic.”

“We should focus on the work – the work of liberation and black joy,” they wrote. “Instead, we face yet another round of struggle for ‘control’ of an organization. This time by people who say they love black people and put abolitionist values ​​at the center, but whose actions are furthest removed from the movement principles of bold conversation, reconciliation and finding paths to peace.”

Two women and a man stand for a portrait on a sidewalk in the city.

D’Zhane Parker, Cicley Gay and Shalomyah Bowers (from left) defend their work as Chair of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

(Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

For many people — certainly some of the 3,912 black people Pew surveyed — this family feud may come as a bit of a surprise. But the truth is, this has been brewing for months. years even.

Let me break it down for you.

When Patrisse Cullors resigned as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation in 2021, she did so amid a cloud of controversy. And it led to a crucial changing of the guard at the nonprofit.

Most people think of Black Lives Matter as a decentralized movement against police brutality and for racial justice. And it’s in many ways created by Cullors, who lives in Los Angeles, and Californians Alicia Garza and Ayọ Tometi.

But BLM is also a not-for-profit foundation registered with the Internal Revenue Service. It is this legal entity that accepts donations and distributes the money to activists working in the official BLM Grassroots chapters, of which LA is the first. (There are also dozens of unofficial chapters unaffiliated with the foundation but rounding out the broader BLM movement.)

It wasn’t until after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police and a racial bill launched that drew millions of Americans onto the streets that it became clear that the Black Lives Matter foundation was growing too big too fast.

Cullors was ill-prepared for the moment, she later admitted. The foundation did not have the staff or infrastructure to handle the deluge of $90 million in donations it received in 2020.

And when it became clear how much BLM had raised, it sparked a backlash as black activists called for transparency. They wanted to know what had happened to the money and why more of it hadn’t gone to the chapters and families of those murdered by the police.

Conversations that had been quiet about how BLM should be structured and who should be prioritized when making donations began to grow louder and angrier.

Cullors has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. But reports that the foundation had paid $6 million for a property in Studio City didn’t help. Nor did Allegations, circulated without evidence by right-wing news outlets, that she embarked on an illegal “home buying spree” with donations running into the millions.

So she resigned. And the widely respected Tides Foundation stepped in as a fiscal sponsor to scale the BLM Foundation to meet current needs, such as: B. Filing long-delayed financial records with the IRS.

Those changes led to the appointment of a new board – including Bowers – earlier this year in hopes of restoring public confidence.

Meanwhile, activists with Black Lives Matter Grassroots chapters, led by Black Lives Matter-LA founder Melina Abdullah, began holding press conferences.

Complaints have surfaced that the Bowers foundation had unfairly raised funds for the activists’ work, while excluding them from Black Lives Matter social media accounts and barring them from important decisions.

The overall message was clear: BLM Grassroots is the real Black Lives Matter, made up of the local people who do the work in the communities. And the consultant-controlled BLM Global Network Foundation is not.

So I’m not surprised that this escalated into a very public lawsuit. In addition to damages, the local groups are seeking an injunction to stop the foundation from using BLM’s major social media accounts and website.

Abdullah called the decision to go public with the dispute a “very difficult and painful one”.

“We know that while we can say, ‘Well, it’s the Global Network Foundation,’ the world only understands ‘Black Lives Matter,'” she told me. “We know this damages the reputation of Black Lives Matter.”

Abdullah said BLM Grassroots “tried to work things out quietly,” requesting private meetings with the foundation and sending letters to Bowers. “It just didn’t work,” she insisted.

Perhaps a court case was necessary in the end, if only for reasons of transparency.

If there really has been financial wrongdoing, particularly anything close to that described in this lawsuit, the public deserves to know the truth. Also, questions have been floating around for far too long – first about Cullors and now about Bowers and apparently Abdullah.

BLM Grassroots alleges that Bowers acted on its own, making grants to its own consulting firm and charging the foundation exorbitant fees.

“The lawsuit demands that they return the people’s funds and stop impersonating Black Lives Matter,” attorney Walter Mosley said in a statement.

The foundation’s board of directors dismissed the claims, instead accusing Abdullah of a similar plan, citing a letter from unnamed members of Black Lives Matter Grassroots repeating the allegation.

Abdullah denied any wrongdoing. “I suspect there will probably be more hits,” she told me.

This is messy and ugly.

And as a black woman, I hate to see that — especially as we near the midterm elections, when black political power will be critical to maintaining a Democratic majority in Congress.

It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Black Lives Matter was an unsullied force to be reckoned with. It was a movement that defined the political agendas and emerging priorities of a new generation.

Back in 2020, as racial reckoning was unfolding, a “substantial proportion” of black Americans predicted that society’s sudden focus on inequality would lead to policy changes that would make life better, according to Pew.

Now we seem to have stuck with the old reserves: the NAACP. The City League. The Black Committee of Congress. And Pew’s recent polls of black Americans are already suggesting that pessimism has crept in.

So, more than anything, I am saddened by what is happening with Black Lives Matter. Sad that this seems to be the price of transparency.

Abdullah says BLM “is a really beautiful and powerful movement that just got into the wrong hands.” We’ll soon find out if that’s true. But there will be no real winners in this family feud.

Black lives matter and always will. But I fear Black Lives Matter, the movement, will never be as important as it once was.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-04/black-lives-matter-blm-lawsuit-stealing-donations-cost-movement What this Black Lives Matter lawsuit will cost the movement

Alley Einstein

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