Melissa Harris-Perry: This is the sound of community leaders in Minneapolis, Minnesota protesting just days after officer Derek Chavin murdered George Floyd.
Speaker 2: The millions and billions and trillions that we waste on the military and the police need to go to our communities. We need housing. We need education. We need healthcare.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Chauvin's deadly malicious disregard for life amplifies demands across the country for cities to fundamentally alter municipal budgets by reducing policing dollars and redirecting resources to serve and protect communities with a more robust safety net, rather than more deadly police weaponry. Just how much do cities spend on police? The Vera Institute compiled fiscal year 2020 budgets for America's 72 biggest cities and the numbers were astonishing.
Chicago spends 37% of the city budget on police. Arlington, Texas spends 44%. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a full 58% of the city budget is spent on policing. These substantial public dollars do not account for the entire budget of police departments. They have another meaningful stream of revenue, police foundations. According to the new police foundations report from the Color of Change, police foundations are private organizations that funnel corporate money into policing, and because the money is not part of the municipal budgets, it's difficult to track.
According to this new Color of Change Report, "No entity tracks such funding, which means there's no record of how much is distributed, which departments receive it, or what equipment they purchase." What is clear is that dozens of Fortune 500 corporations have given millions to police foundations, even as their public statements and aggressive marketing insist.
Speaker 3: Let us be perfectly clear.
Speaker 4: Black lives matter.
Speaker 5: We the National Football League believe Black lives matter.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. On today's Takeaway, we explore the largely hidden world of corporate financing of police foundations.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Please welcome Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice for Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization. Scott, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Scott Roberts: Thanks for having me back, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What are the key takeaways from your new Color of Change report on police foundations?
Scott Roberts: As you said, we looked at 23 police foundations in cities around the country. We found that police foundations have really proliferated in cities around the country. There are police foundations in, that we can identify, at least 300 cities around the country. I think the main takeaway is that police foundations serve a anti-democratic role in providing back channels for corporate interests to funnel money into police departments.
That they not only increase secretly, basically increase the funding for police departments, but that money does influence the way that policing is done in cities around the country further undermining the democratic process and the public policy process. As you said, this is money that is being contributed to police departments by corporations that have made bold statements calling for police reform, saying that Black lives matter when in reality, their contributions to police foundations really don't align with those statements.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I get what police departments get, they get resources. What do the corporations get? Why do they even care about or want to give money to local police departments?
Scott Roberts: I think they're getting influence. We have spoken to dozens of the companies that are featured in our report. We have been working on this report for over a year. We've actually been holding it for quite a while because we've been reaching out to companies educating them on where their money is actually going when they're giving to police foundations. Many of them in their public statements will emphasize the charitable work that police foundations do. Many police foundations spend some portion of their budget on maybe youth programming, police athletic league, things of that nature.
Some of the corporations believe that their money is going primarily to those things. What we found is that most of the money is being spent on equipment, often militarized equipment, things of that nature that support the everyday work of police departments. We also heard from companies, those who felt comfortable speaking really directly about their motivations, that this is about the bias in policing.
We had one large media company that's featured in the report tell us very directly that although they understood our concerns about police foundations, that they were very reluctant to remove themselves from the board of the police foundation in their contributions because they did fear for the safety of their employees. Not that police would respond by attacking their employees, but that they believe that their contributions netted them a special relationship with the NYPD.
This really goes to the fundamental issue with police foundations. That they allow the really wealthy corporations to influence what's happening with policing in our country and give them unfair advantage when it comes to public safety. Police departments have also been shaped by these contributions. One of the worst examples in my opinion is a trademark enforcement unit that was created at the NYPD through contributions from the New York City Police Foundation, specifically contributions from corporate interests that care a lot about trademarks. Motion Picture Studios, professional sports leagues.
They founded a unit in the NYPD that went around harassing street vendors to the extent that it became scandalous and the unit had to be shut down. It just goes to show how this money doesn't just support charities, or even just indiscriminately funds police departments. It influences the tactics, the focuses, and priorities of the police departments as well. We think that should be happening through the public policy process, not through corporate influence.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As I look at the report, there are companies from basically every sector from real estate to finance to retail, security, fossil fuel, media and entertainment, tech, communications, professional sports including the NFL, the NBA, and the MLB. This looks to me like it's a standard practice across all of these corporations, but these are also big companies. Both Costco and Target and Walmart are all on this list. Do they even really know that they're giving money? In such a big company, who's even aware of where these dollars are going?
Scott Roberts: That's a fantastic question, Melissa. That is one of the things that I think even surprised us a bit as we started to talk to companies. The extent to which a lot of companies aren't really paying attention to their charitable contributions. Some of them have really decentralized giving structures where, for instance, you might be a partner at a major financial institution, and you're just given a lot of leeway in terms of how you spend supporting charities.
There's that that a lot of the companies have to track down, understand who was actually responsible for giving to these companies, get an answer internally from those people in terms of why they're giving, have a second conversation with us about it. To an extent, no, these companies aren't tracking well where they're giving money. There's also the fact that many of them believe they are sponsoring, again, like I said, charity, rather than spending on militarized equipment or increasing surveillance of communities of color. We had to share a lot of information to help folks realize where their money was going.
Some of them said they've gone back and had conversations with foundations who, based on what they've reported back to us, we don't think the foundations are really being transparent even with the companies in terms of how they're spending the money. Some of them know exactly what they're giving. Police foundations I say they're like Confederate monuments because we have this idea that they've been around for a while. The New York City Police Foundation's 50 years old, but actually, about 40% of police foundations have been founded since 2014.
This is a direct reaction to the protest that started in the wake of the killing of Mike Brown and the uprising that happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and the calls to demilitarize police departments. If you look at a lot of the websites of these police foundations, they're very explicit that police departments are under attack, that their funding is under attack when, in fact, as you know, police department funding has been on the rise consistently for decades.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last week, Coca-Cola did put some distance, stepped aside from the Atlanta Police Foundation's board of trustees. Presumably, that's in part related to Coca-Cola being named in this report. I'm wondering if that was part of conversations that Color of Change had with Coca-Cola, and for companies that are going to make that choice, how you see what a choice like that means.
Scott Roberts: We did have extensive conversations with Coca-Cola. As I said, we've had with dozens of these companies. We're hopeful that more companies will do as Coca-Cola has done and really look at our concerns. What Coca-Cola did was they stepped down from the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation, which has really been one of the most controversial of the police foundations. This is where we really started. A little over a year ago, we had not paid that much attention to police foundations either.
With the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, what happened was the police department, after the officers were fired and charged, the officers of the Atlanta Police Department took a sick day, a blue flu as they call it. The next day, the Atlanta Police Foundation gave them all $500 bonuses which I think there's a really clear, to me, ethical question raised when a private entity funded by corporate dollars can give bonuses to public workers who have the legitimate use of violence and the ability to take away people's freedom as their job. It seems like undue influence to me. There have been some controversies with the Atlanta Police Foundation.
In addition, very recently they pushed through a massive investment in what's called Cop City in Atlanta which brought together Black Lives Matter activists and environmental activists as they're building a massive training facility in the Atlanta Forest that's going to be devastating ecologically. There are some controversial issues recently with the Atlanta Police Foundation that I think have contributed. In our conversations with Coca-Cola, we emphasized the same things we've been talking about here that it's not just about giving to youth charities, that the Atlanta Police Foundation has funded project Operation Shield, for instance, which made Atlanta the most surveilled city in the country.
Through those conversations, Coca-Cola communicated to us that they had heard our concerns and they were stepping down from the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation. We're hopeful that other companies, as they educate themselves, as they go through what are often long processes to change or create new policies within many of these really large corporations, we're hopeful that they'll follow suit with Coca-Cola and put some distance between themselves, and really stop giving the money to these foundations because that money is being spent in ways that undermine democracy and endanger Black lives.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Scott Roberts is senior director of criminal justice for Color of Change. Thanks for joining The Takeaway today.
Scott Roberts: Thank you, Melissa.
[00:12:29] [END OF AUDIO]
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