Part 2: Color of Change's Rashad Robinson Confronts Fraternal Order of Police over Racial Profiling

July 18, 2016
Web Exclusive


Rashad Robinson

executive director of Color of Change.

In our extended conversation with Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, he discusses attending a recent Summit at the White House with law enforcement and elected officials, where he confronted James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, about racial profiling and the need for systemic police accountability. He also examines his organization’s success in getting corporations like Coke and Ford not to sponsor the 2016 RNC in relation to their campaign to get companies to end their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Watch Part 1 of Robinson’s interview: Dozens of Companies Withdraw Funding from RNC as Trump Headed to Nomination


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." Democracy Now! is broadcasting live from the Republican National Convention here in Cleveland all week. I’m Amy Goodman.

In the wake of the fatal shootings of the police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the five police officers in Dallas, Texas, and also in the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, we’re joined again by Color of Change’s executive director, Rashad Robinson. He was one of 33 people who attended the recent summit at the White House about policing. It was just after President Obama attended the memorial service for the five police officers in Dallas. Describe that meeting to us.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, a couple of things that were really interesting. I was at a meeting with, you know, about 13 civil rights leaders back in February to talk specifically around criminal justice, and this meeting included law enforcement and elected officials. We were given assigned seats, which was interesting. So I was sitting in between the police chief from Pittsburgh and the mayor of Anaheim. And it was kind of—it was not completely clear how everyone got into the room from the sort of elected community and the law enforcement community, but you had folks like the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of Los Angeles. And so there were specifically people in the room who my organization and I have run campaigns against, who we’ve delivered petitions to their doors, who we’ve called on specific action around.

The president opened up the meeting and asked to have a meeting about solutions. And folks sort of had a free-form conversation. His folks from his president’s commission on police reform, which I testified in front of, spoke, as well as many of the activists and elected officials. It was about a four-hour meeting. And the president really did lead it. He didn’t have any staff sitting next to him, which I—which was interesting and different from previous meetings I’ve been at with him around this issue. He called on folks. He drove the meeting.

What’s been frustrating for us is that conversations are great, dialogue is fine, but action is what we need. And that is actually where I really led my conversation. I picked up off of something that Sheryl and I, folk on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, put out there around a petition that we have out in the world really calling for a divestment in terms of the money that goes from the federal government to local governments around law enforcement. I talked about mental health. I talked some about data collection and transparency, but not data collection and transparency for the sake of data and transparency. Oftentimes when we hear the government talk about data, they talk about data like we need to know more, so we can do something about it. We know the problem. We actually need data that’s connected to accountability, data that’s connected to people actually losing their jobs or losing funding.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how little data collection there is around issues of police violence.

RASHAD ROBINSON: There is so little—I mean, just from a—just from a day-to-day perspective, the—not just are they not tracking data on use of force or stops, but they are not required to. And the data that’s kept from one jurisdiction to another can vary greatly. So, as a result, we don’t—we can’t make comparisons between jurisdiction and jurisdiction. The data that we do have is oftentimes very old. And law enforcement are not incentivized to actually keep the correct data. So, in fact, even the data that’s kept, we don’t know the accuracy of it, because there are no—there are no backstops to sort of check whether or not jurisdictions are doing what they’re supposed to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your interaction with the head of the Fraternal Order of Police?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Absolutely. Well, it was really—it was really interesting. So, as I started to talk, I had to take a moment to both not just call on Fraternal Order of Police, but the other police associations that were there. When I testified in front of the president’s commission, I testified during the opening panel of one of the three sessions that they had, and I spoke on the same panel as the person from the national police association. I was on a panel with three other sort of older white men. I was the youngest by like—by like probably 20 years on the panel. And I sat next to three other people that said there was basically no problem, that the problem was the protesters. And so we had spent a lot of time talking about the protesters. And earlier that day in the conversation, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police made a comment that all this talk about racial profiling was sort of, oh, beyond him. He had not heard about these problems about—

AMY GOODMAN: This was James Pasco?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yes. He said that he had not heard these things around racial profiling. And I could not let that go. And so I said, "I have to have a conversation around what you’re reading, what you’re watching, where you’ve been, and how you’re actually supporting, quote-unquote, 'good cops,' if you are not aware of what’s happening in the world that everyone else is aware of." And then I specifically asked him: Was this current status quo acceptable to him? Because I never hear him talk about change. I never hear him talk about reforms. I never hear him call out even bad cops. And then he interrupted me at that moment, which sort of ruffled the feathers of a couple of fellow activists in the room, and he talked—he tried to explain due process to me. And I pushed back and said, "Actually, I want to have a conversation around systems, not individuals. Systems are when we actually change the structures of how departments work. If we get—if we spend all of our time here talking about individuals, we’ll be in this conversation around whack-a-mole, where something happens, we try to figure it out, something else happens."

What we have a challenge at Color of Change is that over and over again we—Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement—is expected to come to the table with solutions. People ask us, what do we want? And so we put demands. We put demands on the table constantly. And then the Fraternal Order of Police, the police associations simply put their heads in the sand and say that there’s no problem. They don’t put any solutions on the table, yet they continue to get invited to the table like they’re good-faith actors in the conversation. Just continuing to come to the table and saying you are not aware that racial profiling is happening is such a regressive place to be in terms of where the state of the country is. I totally get that the reforms they may put on the table, I may not agree with. They may not be as far as I want them to go. But the fact that they’re unwilling to put any reforms on the table shows exactly where they’re at.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back, in the last few minutes we have, to this corporate boycott you have pushed of corporations supporting the Republican convention. What are the corporations you absolutely know actually pulled out entirely?

RASHAD ROBINSON: The corporations that we know that pulled out entirely are HP, Apple, Ford, Wells Fargo, are companies that we know have pulled out completely. You know, some corporations had already given money before our campaign had started, but once we started the campaign, they pulled out their money totally. And I think, you know, some of those need to be held up—Coca-Cola—also Pepsi pulled out completely, as well. And so, you know, we—

AMY GOODMAN: Coca-Cola has put a lot of money. They’re based in Atlanta, of course, right?

RASHAD ROBINSON: They’ve put a lot of money. They’ve put a bit—you know, according to the RNC, they put a million dollars in four years ago. According to the FEC reports that we saw, they put in about $660,000.

All throughout our campaign, though, from the—you know, and this is a problem that we continue to have with the mainstream media. All throughout our campaign, the RNC would consistently say that our campaign was not having any impact, that they had raised all their money, that they didn’t need—that they didn’t need—that, you know, no one was paying attention to us. And it was really interesting, because the mainstream media would report that as fact. And I would constantly get on the phone with them, and I would say, "Why are you not asking them for proof?" They’ve asked us for proof at every time they covered the story. They wanted to see the emails we’ve sent, the ads we run. They wanted to get proof of the back-and-forth conversations. And we’ve had to share like calendaring schedules and emails that like, you know, confirmed meetings between assistants. We’ve had to, at every turn, prove that we were actually having dialogue and prove that we were having an impact. Like, why would a corporation get on the phone with us four times in one week to talk about this, at the C-suite level, if they weren’t—if we weren’t actually having an impact? But the RNC could just say, over and over again, "They’re not having any impact," and they would write that.

And then we get to a week out, and the RNC says, and a letter gets leaked, that they’re begging for $6 million. We know, if they’re begging for $6 million, they’re probably $10 or $12 million short. We don’t know if Sheldon [Adelson] is the only person that even got one of those letters begging for money at the last minute. What we do know is that throughout this campaign we were told that we weren’t having an impact. And this is the exact same thing that happened during our ALEC campaign, when we were pushing corporations to leave ALEC in the aftermath of ALEC’s role in Stand Your Ground laws.

AMY GOODMAN: The American Legislative Exchange Council.

RASHAD ROBINSON: The American Legislative Exchange Council, who wrote the bills, Stand Your Ground, and wrote the voter ID laws that were pushed in states. And as we went from corporation to corporation, have pushed and worked in coalition to push over a hundred corporations to leave, at every turn news media would report that we were having no impact, that there was a couple of corporations, but ALEC was fine. Then, all of a sudden, one day they start reporting ALEC has a $1.5 million budget shortfall. They’ve got to close down their offices in Virginia, move to a smaller one. They’re laying off staff. And I just wish the media would be a lot more honest about their connections to corporate power and how they’re trying to defend it.

AMY GOODMAN: And billionaire Republican stalwart David Koch has reneged on a million-dollar pledge to the Republican convention, is that right?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Absolutely. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is we had back and forth with these corporations. We were like, the Koch brothers are not showing up. The last three nominees for the Republican Party presidency are not showing up. Why are major corporations showing up? And the reason why they are showing up, the reasons why the AT&Ts and others ignored us and still showed up, is because this is a way for them to buy a certain type of power. It’s their way of sort of hedging their bets and saying, "Well, maybe Donald Trump might be president, so we need to have a relationship." And unfortunately, these conventions have, on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, have been a way for corporations to skirt around campaign finance laws and have a deeper relationship with companies—I mean, with parties and with elected officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashad Robinson, what is the sector you’ve had least luck with?

RASHAD ROBINSON: The sector that we always have least luck with over the years has been like utility companies, business-to-business, companies that are not public-facing. Increasingly, though, in our corporate campaign work, we’ve been having problems with Silicon Valley. There’s like a Libertarian streak. We were up to about 60 companies doing the ALEC campaign. And during the George Zimmerman trial, we watched as a host of Silicon Valley companies joined ALEC. And we were like, "How is this even possible that they are joining?" But ALEC had sort of decided they were going to—

AMY GOODMAN: This is the trial of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin.

RASHAD ROBINSON: For killing Trayvon Martin, with, you know, Stand Your Ground being a central issue for why companies were leaving ALEC, that these corporations would join. There still tends to be a disconnect at many of these corporations between sometimes what they say out in the world, particularly around race. We were able to go back and get these companies to eventually leave ALEC. But it was directly related to the climate issue and related to ALEC’s role in climate and sort of Silicon Valley’s support of climate. And so, we recognize that over the next several years we’re going to have to do a lot of work to create a new type of accountability around race and social justice in Silicon Valley, inside that arena.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re here at the Republican convention for the week. What are you doing? And were you able, really, to nail down which corporations are here and which not? And are you checking it out this week?

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to sort of nail down. Part of the problem with this current set of disclosure laws is that you don’t find out 'til 60 days after the convention whether or not someone has donated. And so, we want to know now. We want to know now which corporations have left. We also have a pretty good suspicion that there's a set of corporations that slow-walked their money back or did not donate, but didn’t want to be in the press around it, and so were sort of flying under the radar. And so, we want to sort of get a better understanding of who made a choice to be here and invested, and who made a choice that this was not a business-as-usual convention, and they shouldn’t have resources in it.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what will be missing, visually, for people or the parties? What do these corporations do when they invest this money at conventions?

RASHAD ROBINSON: I mean, I think, you know, what these corporations do is they make the convention run smoothly. They pay for tickets and hotel rooms and a whole lot of things that make an event big and—

AMY GOODMAN: Many parties.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Many of the parties. And so, you know, we recognize that this will be a much more scaled-down convention. We also believe that the party has had to go through—had to go through donors even to make up money before they got to this $6 million ask. So what we wanted to do was really create some pain around Trump, to send a real message to the RNC that, you know, you thought you were going to just be able to move forward with this convention, maybe raise money from these folks for other things; now you’re working to have to cover sort of basic costs that you get covered every year.

It’s unfortunate how these conventions get covered, because about $15 to $20 million of this campaign—I mean, of this convention, is actually being paid for by the people of Cleveland, through tax subsidies and other things. And so, we are, you know, incredibly disappointed in that. As we had back and forth with corporations, they would say things to us like, "Well, you don’t want to take away money from the people of Cleveland. What we’re really trying to do is support Cleveland." And we were like, "Well, there’s a whole lot of ways that you can support Cleveland. And why don’t we help you? We will give you a list of organizations and groups and activities that you can get involved with. If you are so intent on supporting the people of Cleveland, Color of Change will make sure it happens," because the last thing we wanted to do was hurt communities in Cleveland that needed these resources. But throwing parties for Republican leadership is not how you help the community of Cleveland.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, who’s here at the Republican convention this week in Cleveland, as we are, broadcasting two hours every day from Cleveland, from just outside what they call the Q, which is the arena where the Republican National Convention is taking place. Next week we’ll be all week in Philadelphia covering the Democratic National Convention. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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