African American Business Leaders Contribute $1 Million to NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Policing Reform Campaign
Legal Defense and Educational Fund, purchase Inc. (LDF)Nearly two dozen prominent African American business leaders announced the donation of $1,000,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) to launch a campaign for policing reform. The business group, which designated several spokespersons, but whose members choose to remain anonymous, expressed their growing and urgent concern over the rash of police-involved killings and assaults around the country.
In describing the gift, which was raised in nearly 48 hours, William M. Lewis, Jr., Managing Director and Co-Chairman of Investment Banking at Lazard Ltd., said, “The business community has a responsibility to place resources into the capable hands of organizations that have a vested interest in doing work on behalf of the public and, particularly, the disenfranchised.” Lewis, a former board co-chair at LDF, further explained, “LDF’s long track record of strategic thinking and solutions-oriented action made it a logical choice for support in this work.”
Charles Phillips, CEO of software giant Infor Global Solutions and a key supporter of the effort, described the killing of Walter Scott, who was shot multiple times in the back while running away from a law enforcement officer in South Carolina earlier this year, as a “defining moment.” “Many business leaders want to see the creation of real solutions for what we all agree is a serious and urgent problem,” Phillips explained. “We’ve been impressed by LDF’s work and the clear leadership it has shown on this issue.”
The Legal Defense Fund is an entirely separate organization from the NAACP, and was founded by legendary civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American Supreme Court justice of the United States.
LDF, which turns seventy-five this year, has fought against racial bias in the criminal justice system for many decades. Earlier this year, LDF settled a case against the New York Police Department on behalf of public housing residents and their guests who were arbitrarily subjected to trespass arrests. LDF filed a brief in the Supreme Court two years ago in support of the case of Robbie Tolan, a Major League baseball player who was shot on his parents’ driveway by police officers in Bellaire, Texas.
LDF formed a policing reform campaign this spring after spending months of intense engagement on policing reform measures after the Ferguson police shooting death of Michael Brown last summer. Brown’s death occurred within weeks of the police-involved chokehold death of Eric Garner last July in Staten Island, captured on cellphone video one year ago. Since then, LDF has supported calls for numerous state and local investigations and reforms of policing practices and use of excessive force against civilians in cities such as Baltimore, New York, North Charleston, and McKinney, Texas.
“This campaign is about working together to build the kind of America that we want to live in – where police officers play their role in protecting communities and earn the trust of the public,” said LDF President & Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “We are extremely grateful for this support. It is particularly gratifying to see the willingness of African American business leaders to demonstrate their commitment to this issue.”
The Policing Reform Campaign seeks to:
- Secure the adoption of federal laws and policies that use police department funding to promote new training focused on racial bias and de-escalation of encounters with youth and persons with mental impairments;
- Create a federally-mandated system of data collection of police practices disaggregated by race;
- Build the capacity of local communities to challenge and change law enforcement policies;
- Promote bias-free and responsible policing policies and practices at the state and local levels;
- Ensure that the legal system provides accountability for incidents of police brutality; and
- Encourage prosecutors to play a leadership role in addressing racial bias in law enforcement and criminal justice.
“The issue of police-involved killings of unarmed African Americans is not new,” said Monique Dixon, Senior Policy Counsel for LDF and lead counsel for the campaign. “However, recent movements by community activists and graphic videos of police abuses have awakened the consciousness of average Americans across the country. It’s time to take strategic steps to end police violence and promote bias-free policing practices.”
The donation of funds to support LDF’s policing reform work is part of a growing effort by business leaders to provide targeted support for key civil rights activities. Earlier this year, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Lewis and Phillips initiated a partnership between business executives and Paramount Pictures to provide free screenings of the film SELMA for nearly 30,000 New York City students. That effort ultimately expanded to several dozen cities across the country, where local African American business leaders took up the challenge and replicated the effort. LDF similarly hopes to expand the philanthropic support for its policing reform efforts with matching donations.