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Money And Justice

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Money And Justice

Money And Justice

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You may have heard this clip by now.


JOHNNIQUA CHARLES: You about to lose yo job. Get this thing. You about to lose yo job 'cause you are detaining me for nothing.

JAMES SNEED, BYLINE: This is Johnniqua Charles. And this is a video of her getting handcuffed by a security officer, kind of dancing and making fun of him. It's from February, but it found its way to a music producer.


DJ SUEDE: Suede the Remix God.

SNEED: Suede the Remix God.


CHARLES: You about to lose yo job.

GONZALEZ: This producer turned Johnniqua's song-dance thing into an actual song that you can, like, really download.


CHARLES: You about to lose yo job 'cause you are detaining me for nothing.

SNEED: It came out on June 3, right around when people started protesting the killing of George Floyd by the police. And this song became kind of like an anthem for the movement.

GONZALEZ: And people who saw this, heard the song, they did what a lot of people have been doing right now. They tried to find out how they can get Johnniqua some real money - like, send money directly to her. And she has now gotten almost $55,000 on GoFundMe. And Johnniqua says these donations, like, changed her life. She had been struggling with homelessness and addiction.

SNEED: Johnniqua's story is just one example of how people are trying to give money to support causes like racial injustice and policing.

GONZALEZ: For example, George Floyd's GoFundMe - it has received the most individual donations in GoFundMe history - more than 480,000 donations from 140-plus countries, over $14 million as of today.

SNEED: Fourteen million. And the Justice for Breonna Taylor GoFundMe is just under $6 million.

GONZALEZ: And the sheer amount of money being donated all over the place right now is a statement in itself. But some organizations are saying, even we don't know how to handle all of this money.


GONZALEZ: Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Sarah Gonzalez.

SNEED: And I'm James Sneed.

GONZALEZ: James used to be our intern. He's now one of our producers. And he'll be back in a bit. During all the social unrest, people want to get involved in the conversation and the anger and the sadness around racism and policing. And for many, getting involved means where can I donate, and where should I buy from? Today on the show, where the money should and shouldn't go, from corporations saying Black Lives Matter to donations, defunding the police and reparations.


GONZALEZ: There's this phrase we've been hearing a lot, defund the police. And we're an economic show. We know that a big portion of city budgets go to police departments. So we want to explain what defund the police is, what it means and how it could work. And the first thing we want to say is that defunding the police seems to mean different things to different people. Some just want to redirect some of the money, but others want to abolish police completely, like Oluchi Omeoga with the Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis. They have a campaign around defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.

OLUCHI OMEOGA: I'm not going to lie and say that my end goal in all this is not abolishing the police completely and creating a system that's not rooted in slave catching and anti-Black racism.

GONZALEZ: Oluchi is referring to slave patrols. Slave patrols were basically groups of white men in some Southern states who would catch runaway slaves. And Oluchi is like, why would we want anything with any connection to slavery at all? Let's tear it all down, create something new. And for Oluchi, defunding the police is the first step to abolishing the police. But because it's such an open-to-interpretation word, defund, a lot of people with a lot of different goals have been using it.

OMEOGA: I think regardless of if it means a complete abolition or if it means take some funds, defund means defund, right? Like, folks know what defund means. It means take money from something and put somewhere else.

GONZALEZ: For many, defunding really just means moving some, or maybe even a lot, of police funding to other programs that reduce crime, like job training and mental health services, addiction services, violence prevention, housing.

OMEOGA: All of these things have been defunded for years and years and years. Instead of defunding these services that the police are responding to, why don't we actually just fund those things so that we don't actually need the police in those situations?

GONZALEZ: Their thinking is if more money goes to, say, education or job training, more people would have jobs and there'd be less crime to respond to. There'd be less need for cops. And no matter what you think of police, they can be expensive. Fifteen of the top 20 highest-paid city employees in Boston are police officers. In New York City, the police department gets the third-largest slice of the city budget after education and social services, almost $6 billion a year. And in Minneapolis, where Oluchi is from, about 12% of the city's total budget goes to police, $193 million.

And people are starting to really ask why. Why do police get so much money? And the answer might be because police now respond to so many different things and are in so many different corners of our lives.

OMEOGA: The police are getting called for so many things that they actually don't need to be. Like, if I get into a car accident, I have to call the police to get a police report. Like, why is that?

GONZALEZ: OK. So regardless of what you think about all this, it is interesting to just kind of take a step back and think, like, when did police start handing out little pieces of paper for speeding? When did the U.S. decide that police with guns should make traffic stops or direct traffic? Or why are police in public schools - which, by the way, Minneapolis just said won't happen anymore. Or if your neighbor is having a loud party, why do police come over to tell them to lower the music? Why can't it be someone else? Some people call this idea unbundling the police department.

OMEOGA: The amount of power that they have amassed over these last 300, 200 years is insane, right? Like, people are calling the police on homeless people. It's like, what do you actually want the police to do about this person?

GONZALEZ: By the way, some officers have come out and said, like, great. Yes, we would love to respond to actual crimes and not all of these social issues. The main interaction that Americans have with police is getting pulled over in a car - the main interaction, according to the Bureau of Justice Services.

And reforming police departments - that is not what the defund the police people are asking for. They say that requiring cops to wear body cameras, for example, hasn't stopped some of them from still lying about what happens during arrests or confrontations. And it hasn't stopped some departments from still disproportionately killing Black people.

OMEOGA: We still tried to say, oh, they just need more sensitivity training. They just need more experience. They need this. They need body cameras. They need more surveillance. And none of that is working.

GONZALEZ: So reform is not what you want.

OMEOGA: No, not at all.

GONZALEZ: Is there - like, let's say Minneapolis does fully defund the police and, therefore, abolish the police department. Is there a situation where you see the need for police? Like, if something bad happened to me - like my apartment was robbed, let's say - and I called 911, who would answer? Who would respond to my armed robbery?

OMEOGA: I do think that there needs to be a system of safety, right? Just because we abolish the police doesn't mean that guns are all of a sudden not going to be in America, right?

GONZALEZ: So there would still be, like, a police-ish department.

OMEOGA: One hundred percent.

GONZALEZ: But maybe with a different name.

OMEOGA: Yeah. Let's just not say police department. You could say community-led safety. That's cool.

GONZALEZ: OK, so Oluchi says there would be something like a police, but, like, let's just not even call it that. Let's actually start over, build it from the ground up - new name, new training, new standards, new everything.

But - so these community-led safety patrols or whatever they might be would have or could have weapons and handcuffs to respond...


GONZALEZ: ...To dangerous situations.

OMEOGA: Yeah. They would have tools to respond to situations. And also, I don't want to sit here and say that, like, I have all of the answers, and I'm going to, like, completely transform the policing department. I also don't think that abolishing the police is going to get rid of racism. And, like, it's going to take all of us to be able to, like, dream up something new that we actually haven't even seen before.

GONZALEZ: And a bunch of cities are already starting to move some funds away from police departments and use it for other services that could prevent crime - Los Angeles, San Francisco. And Oluchi says, yes, the term defund is complex, and it means different things to different people, and it's a little jarring. But they say until recently, so was the term Black Lives Matter.

OMEOGA: If you look back at 2013, 2012, Black Lives Matter was not as widely said as it is right now, right? You have Nike saying Black Lives Matter. You have Adidas saying Black Lives Matter. I just got a [expletive] email from - I apologize for swearing. I just got an email for...

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

OMEOGA: ...From PetSmart saying Black Lives Matter, right?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, PetSmart got in on it. So who knows? Maybe PetSmart will be saying defund the police in a few years - maybe.

But this gets us to our next segment. It seems like every company we've bought anything from in the last 10 years wants to let us know how much they support social justice. And some of them have made real changes, like NASCAR. NASCAR just banned Confederate flags at its races. That's huge. Aunt Jemima - pancake syrup - finally changing its name because it's based on a racist stereotype. But Sam Sanders, the host of NPR's It's Been A Minute podcast, says some of these corporate statements feel a little empty and a little strange. He's with us now.

Hey, Sam.


GONZALEZ: All right, so what kind of, like, awkward statements are we talking about here?

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness. There's so many. But I think my favorite so far has to come from "Wicked"...


SANDERS: ...The musical "Wicked." In one of their Black Lives Matter support messages, they riff on one of the iconic lyrics from one of the musical's songs. The song is called "Defying Gravity."


IDINA MENZEL: (As Elphaba, singing) ...Defying gravity. Kiss me...

SANDERS: Anyway, in the post, you have a picture of a green witch's arm 'cause there's a witch in the show. The witch's arm is locked in embrace with a white arm. And the caption is, when we defy hate, we defy gravity.


SANDERS: Very cheesy.

GONZALEZ: But, like, the intention is there - the good intention.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. And there's so many other ones. Google said last week, quote, "we stand in support of racial equality and all those who search for it." Get it, Sarah - search?

GONZALEZ: I expect something so much wittier from Google.

SANDERS: And then Gushers - like, the fruit snacks of my youth. They're very tart.

GONZALEZ: I know Gushers - yeah, the best fruit snack.

SANDERS: Gushers with the, like, juicy center - they wrote on Twitter, quote, "there is no Gushers without the Black community." And I'm like, really? It was - it's just, like, beyond to me.

GONZALEZ: The little, like, what exactly were you going for with that?

SANDERS: What do you mean? I mean, like, I am a member of the Black community who loves Gushers. There's that.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

SANDERS: But I can't speak for all the Blacks. Fun fact, though - someone who used to work at Gushers reached out to me personally and said, actually, Gushers' social media accounts have been really involved in having active conversations with Gen Z on Twitter for a while, and they talk about social justice a lot, so this actually makes sense for them. And I ended up talking with Brad Hiranaga. He is the chief brand officer for General Mills. That is the company that owns Gushers. And he says those tweets make total sense for a brand like Gushers.

BRAD HIRANAGA: So the main thing to note is that this brand has partnered with Black creators and influence in marketing for years. And so the Black community in general has long supported the brand. And we know our consumers who are younger, they expect, you know, brands that they support to take a stand.

SANDERS: And he said Gushers is also giving a donation to the NAACP Youth and College Division.


SANDERS: Anywho, I think the one that caught the most side-eye in all of this came from Tushy. This is the bidet company. They wrote on Twitter, we stand in solidarity, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And then they finished the tweet with the words, we got your back(side), with side in parentheses. Do you get it? Do you get it?

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) But, OK, these corporations are telling us where they stand, which is, like, great for people who want to know which companies they want to support and which they don't, right? Like, that's important to people. But it also feels like corporations just feel like they need to say something, even if they're just, like, a really tasty fruit snack company.

SANDERS: Yeah, and there is a pressure. That is real. And it feels different this time. You know, brands have been doing this for a while, but it's really hit a high point this month. And to understand where this pressure on brands to always say something about everything - to see where it came from, you have to have a conversation about how the Internet and social media has just totally changed advertising over the last 15 years or so. I spoke this week to Amanda Mull. She is a staff writer at The Atlantic. And she covers this stuff. And she says traditional advertising, the stuff that existed before the Internet, it just doesn't really work anymore.

AMANDA MULL: So you have fewer people watching cable TV. You have more people who are recording things and fast-forwarding through commercials. You have fewer people listening to conventional radio, more people listening to Spotify subscriptions without ads. So you sort of lose your viewers for traditional advertising.

SANDERS: So it's kind of like companies have to jump into these conversations. And social media is the only place people are listening.

MULL: If you could make ads that they feel identify places where wrongdoing is happening or where they feel like there needs to be societal change, consumers are willing to share these things themselves.

SANDERS: And the best, stickiest messages are the ones people think say something about them. You know, so forget whether corporations are people or not. The real conversation right now is over how much corporations want to be a part of you.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, right, which I get. But sometimes, these really are just words and no action.

SANDERS: Corporations, like people, can be hypocritical (laughter). There has to be a distinction made here as well, though. A lot of times, a person speaking - or tweeting, rather - for the corporation or the brand, they mean well. And they can be individuals who actually believe in this stuff, regardless of what the larger company is doing. You know, so for instance, I mentioned that bidet company, Tushy, earlier, which had the kind of cringe-worthy Black Lives Matter tweet. After I talked about those tweets on my show last week, Tushy reached out. The head of Tushy...

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Reached out to me to let me know that the person who writes their tweets is a Black woman. And she's actually quite active on issues of racial equality. And, you know, who am I to tell her that she can't tweet about Black Lives Matter?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. All right, thanks, Sam.

SANDERS: Thank you so much, Sarah. Let's defy gravity together.

GONZALEZ: Let's do it.


GONZALEZ: Let's lock arms.


GONZALEZ: All right, next up, we've got our PLANET MONEY producer Darian Woods. Hey, Darian.


GONZALEZ: So we are talking about race and money. So that is going to lead us to one huge topic, reparations. Darian, we're going to let you take it from here.

WOODS: All right, I want to introduce you all to this guy.

WILLIAM DARITY JR: I'm William Darity, better known in some circles as Sandy Darity.

WOODS: Sandy is an economist at Duke University, and he also teaches African American studies. He plays the blues harmonica, lives in North Carolina, which is a place he both loves and hates.

DARITY: I think that that's pretty appropriate for North Carolina, given the state's racial history. You know, I have that mixture of feelings.

WOODS: For a lot of his career, conventional economic models were telling him racism and inequality would solve itself through efficient markets. And as for reparations, he thought they would never happen, so why bother - until the 1980s, when he was asked to write the intro for a book on reparations. And as he starts reading these articles, something clicks.

DARITY: My mind changed about whether or not you should avoid pursuing a social change simply because you don't think it's likely to happen. If you had been living in the United States in 1817, you probably would not think that slavery was likely to come to an end. But would that mean that you should not oppose it?

WOODS: So he starts thinking about putting a dollar figure on hundreds of years of harm not just from slavery, but also segregation and modern-day discrimination. He and his wife, writer Kirsten Mullen, published a book this April where they set out kind of an ingenious way of working out how to quantify this.

Sandy says there is over $100 trillion of wealth in the United States. Black people make up 13% of the population, so they should have 13% of the wealth - $13 trillion - right? But they don't. They have less than $3 trillion. So for reparations to close that wealth gap, Black households would need a minimum of $10 trillion.

Ten trillion dollars - how do I imagine that, like, as a large number? Like, how do you think about that number?

DARITY: (Laughter) Well, the entire budgets for the 50 states in the United States amounts to about $2 trillion.

WOODS: OK, so state-level spending...

DARITY: So the minimum sum that we think is required for a reparations program is five times that.

WOODS: With the pandemic crisis going on, we're starting to get acquainted with these large numbers. We've had that $2 trillion CARES Act, so five CARES Acts. Would you say that's fair?

DARITY: That's right.

WOODS: And if you're going to hand out $10 trillion, that would mean every Black family in America would get $800,000.

DARITY: It's very simple.


DARITY: And you would do it directly by making payments of that amount to Black Americans.

WOODS: Eight hundred thousand dollars - he says that could be checks, it could be a fund that pays out interest every year, you could get it over 10 years. But, of course, some say that cash is just not the right answer. They say things like give Black families access to great education instead. Sandy says, no, that won't work.

DARITY: If you were to equalize other types of disparities, you would not necessarily equalize wealth. So let me take as an example educational attainment, right? One of the most striking and disturbing statistics that's emerged from the research that we've done is the fact that Black heads of households with a college degree have two-thirds of the net worth of white heads of households who never finished high school.

GONZALEZ: Wow. That's awful.

WOODS: It's pretty incredible. Now, there's a long history of arguing about all of this, and there are other ways of calculating reparations. But, hey, this is one number - $10 trillion.

GONZALEZ: All right, thanks, Darian.

WOODS: Thanks, Sarah.


GONZALEZ: Now, a lot of people are taking matters into their own hands, too, like donating, sometimes with unintended results. That's after the break.


GONZALEZ: In the last couple weeks, millions and millions of dollars have been flowing to organizations - to the big social justice ones, but also, people are just sending money to other people they see in viral videos or on their Twitter feeds. And James Sneed, our producer, he's been looking into this. Hey, James.

SNEED: Hey, Sarah. Yeah, people have really been wanting to help right now. They're opening their wallets, clicking a donate button. They are just really feeling it. And that's actually weirdly been causing some problems. Like, take Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. Folks were like, people are getting arrested for protesting police brutality. Well, we want to pay their bill. Kevin Cheng - he's with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. He says that first Friday after George Floyd was killed, there was a deluge of donations.

KEVIN CHENG: There was an unbelievable outpouring of support. So within 24 hours, we received $1.8 million in donations from more than 50,000 individuals.

SNEED: One-point-eight million dollars in 24 hours - that's a lot, maybe too much. So Brooklyn Community Bill Fund, they did something that maybe not a lot of nonprofits would do.

CHENG: After we raised the first $1.8 million, we actually released a statement directing folks to donate elsewhere.

SNEED: Basically, they were like, thanks for the donations, everybody, but we're good for now. You should maybe give that money to other places, like Black-led grassroots organizations.

Like, why wouldn't you guys just say, like, it's going to be useful; we're going to use it for the same thing that the people who donated want it to be used for, just not for this protest or today - like, why wouldn't you just keep the money?

CHENG: That was a balance that we had to play, right? Grassroots, Black-led, community-based organizations are incredibly important right now. And they've been doing the work for years, actually getting laws changed, changing attitudes on the ground.

SNEED: They're saying, we don't want to sit on all this bail money. It could be used right now to try and fix what's broken in the justice system.

CHENG: So the idea, I think, of sort of hoarding money for a world in which it might be needed some day - sort of that goes against our desire to fight for a world in which we're not needed.

SNEED: The same thing is happening all across the country. The Minnesota Freedom Fund, they raised over $30 million before hitting pause on taking new donations, but just for three days. Black Lives Matter, the organization, they've been getting a lot of donations, too - so many that they made a list of partners on their website, saying, yeah, you guys could donate to these people, too, like Color of Change, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, things like that.

There was so much giving so fast to so many new groups, it's led to some confusion. Perfect example - Black Lives Matter. A bunch of companies, like Apple, Microsoft, Google, they wanted to donate. They even offered to match employee donations to Black Lives Matter. But they kind of got the name wrong. They told employees they could donate to The Black Lives Matter Foundation - The. There's no The in Black Lives Matter. It's a totally different thing. It's just got a sneakily similar name. And this whole typo thing helped raise over $7 million for the wrong organization. We don't even really know what they're about. We're pretty sure it's just one guy in California.

After BuzzFeed broke this story, GoFundMe and other platforms, they froze most of those donations. This is all to say that donating effectively is pretty hard right now, even for Fortune 500 companies.

DEAN KARLAN: When you give to a charity, you're trusting them to figure out where the need is.

SNEED: That's economist Dean Karlan. He co-founded a company called ImpactMatters, which advises on how to do the most good with donations.

KARLAN: It's not realistic for every individual and every act of giving to kind of do the math and figure out, OK, I have 74 options. Let me figure out which one's the best.

SNEED: But Karlan's main thing is that if you are moved to donate money, then just donate money. And that's actually the most important thing.

GONZALEZ: I love that. Thanks, James.

SNEED: Thanks, Sarah. Happy Juneteenth.


GONZALEZ: That's our show. If there's something you think we should be covering right now, email us at We're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. We're @planetmoney. Also, we are in search of our next PLANET MONEY intern. You should apply. James Sneed, who just did the segment on donations, he started out as an intern. Go to

Today's show was produced by Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi and Darian Woods. Alex Goldmark is our supervising producer, and Bryant Urstadt edits the show. If you like PLANET MONEY, rate us. Tell a friend about us. I'm Sarah Gonzalez. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly refer to the Bureau of Justice Statistics as the Bureau of Justice Services.]

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