Internet giant Google has pledged to donate $11.5 million in grants to four organizations combating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While Google would not phrase their grants in this way, one of the recipients has praised the Black Lives Matter movement as “civil rights demonstrations,” and the cause of these organizations does overlap with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There is significant ambiguity regarding the extent of racial bias in policing and criminal sentencing,” Justin Steele, principal with Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, told USA Today. “We must find ways to improve the accessibility and usefulness of information.”
Steele presented the grants as a way to quantify the racial disparity in the justice system. It is hard to know the full extent to which black people are treated differently than white people. Even South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott has shared personal stories of “frustration” with cops, in the nation’s capital!
“It’s hard to measure justice,” Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and president at the Center for Policing Equity (which will receive $5 million, the largest share of Google’s grants), told USA Today. “In policing, data are so sparse and they are not shared broadly. The National Justice Database is an attempt to measure justice so that people who want to do the right thing can use that metric to lay out a GPS for getting where we are trying to go. That’s really what we see Google as being a key partner in helping us do.”
Naturally, USA Today had to report that Google “is trying to address the racial imbalance in the demographics of its workforce. Hispanics make up 3% of Google employees and African Americans 2%.” USA Today likely omitted the number of whites (61 percent), because the number of Asians (30 percent) is so high, according to a 2014 PBS report.
But rather than confirming a racial bias against minorities, the fact that Google, a majority-white company, is nevertheless heavily subsidizing efforts to quantify racial disparities in criminal justice should be heartening, especially to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Indeed, one of the groups Google is supporting, the Equal Justice Initiative, explicitly endorsed Black Lives Matter in one of its videos, calling the group “civil rights demonstrators.” That video linked slavery to mass incarceration, lamenting that “many states celebrate the era of slavery with Confederate holidays and by honoring the defenders and architects of slavery, while ignoring the history of enslavement.”
This is a horrifying insult to all those who commemorate the Civil War and view the battle as a fight over states’ rights. While I consider their viewpoints incorrect, I do not dismiss as racist those who commemorate the Confederacy, and neither should the Equal Justice Initiative.
That said, the organization aims to “foster an honest conversation about the legacy of slavery” and about “mass incarceration.” This conversation is important, and the organizations to which Google is contributing do help to quantify the numbers.
Here are the grants broken down: Google will give $ 1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative, a group focused on confronting past injustices; $5 million to the Center for Policing Equity to build a national database to track police departments’ use of force and traffic stops; $1 million to Impact Justice, a group which focuses on keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system; and $1.5 million to Measures for Justice to build an Internet system to show how local municipalities treat people based on various characteristics such as gender, color, and age.
Despite the importance of ensuring justice for all, and the undeniable disparities between white and black crime, racism and anti-police violence have plagued the Black Lives Matter movement. Many BLM protests have degenerated into riots, during which white people have been targeted for the color of their skin. Some Black Lives Matter graffiti also included the slogan “Kill white people.” A man claiming to be the brother of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man killed by a black cop in Charlotte, declared, “All white people are f***in’ devils!” One Black Lives Matter activist was even shunned by The Huffington Post for her overt racism.
Criminal justice reform is an important cause, and should not be confused with the negative aspects of this movement. Nevertheless, as these groups rightly advocate for justice, they must be careful not to fall into these racial and anti-police traps.
Google has given to similar groups before. In 2015, the Internet giant gave $2.35 million to organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area focused on systemic racism in the criminal justice system. In 2016, it gave four grants totaling $3 million ($1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative).