In this undated photo, Shaun King poses where he was the lead pastor of Courageous Church in Midtown Atlanta. King, a blogger who rose to prominence in the aftermath of a police shooting last summer in Ferguson, Mo., pushed back against claims by conservative bloggers that his parents were both white and that he exaggerated an assault he endured two decades ago while attending high school in Versailles, Ky. (Vino Wong/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
A shocking fracture in the Black Lives Matter movement came Thursday when popular activist DeRay Mckesson penned an article in Medium accusing fellow movement figurehead Shaun King of fraud and deception.
Mckesson, better known by just his first name and his signature puffy blue vest, said King had developed a disturbing pattern that was becoming more and more noticeable.
We never aim to replicate the power dynamic of the system we are up against — a system that embraces a devious lack of transparency, willingly sacrifices the vulnerable to protect itself, and replaces truth with convenient lies. Yet Shaun King has done just that.
Shaun has followed a uniform pattern over the years, a pattern that has compelled me to speak up, again. This is not the first time I have done so, and I am not alone. Johnetta Elzie and I were in a previous public disagreement with Shaun about issues of transparency and ethics that ended in his apology. Shaun also deleted all of his tweets and noted that he would focus on journalism and would not engage in attempted organizing or fundraising. Importantly, he made this commitment to others both publicly and privately. It is clear now that he did not keep those commitments and after a brief hiatus, re-emerged and began engaging in the same behaviors that caused the last public conflict.
Mckesson claimed he had tried to take the high road and work through back channels but King’s continued misbehavior warranted public exposure.
I wrote about Shaun King in an effort to bring clarity to a set of issues that continue to be a topic of conversation re: fundraising, organizing, & activism.
I rarely engage in these discussions publicly, but felt compelled given the observed pattern.https://t.co/FlTJOcMF86
— deray (@deray) September 12, 2019
I tried previously to engage offline to resolve these tensions, but his behaviors did not change. There is a formula that he employs when people ask questions or highlight contradictions: issue an unconditional denial, attack the character of the person asking questions, argue that white supremacists are attacking him or his family, respond only to the least salient of all points raised, then issue a statement akin to an apology.
But he does not often answer any of the questions or offer any resolution of contradictions raised, but instead, deflects. What’s more, he often bullies and intimidates those who ask questions at all, turning his ire especially at Black women, attempting to scare inquirers into silence.
When asked about the repeated organizations and lack of transparency on funding, he has replied noting that “failure is not fraud,” as if to suggest that questions raised do not warrant serious responses simply because he may have been an ineffective leader. But at a point, those who attempt to lead but consistently demonstrate that they cannot effectively lead should stop. We have reached that point with Shaun.
The New York Daily News columnist didn’t do much to engender trust after his meteoric rise to fame within the activist culture, with rumors beginning to fly of his mistreatment of women – Black women in particular – and his mismanagement of funds. Not only that, King more recently made several grave errors in judgment, outing two men he believed to be involved in two separate hate crimes, only to discover he had exposed the wrong people.
Mckesson laid out a thorough and tight timeline of King’s disturbing behavior, beginning with the founding of King’s organization “Justice Together” and detailing the problems in the operation. Some of his points included:
1. When people disagreed, they were removed from the group or it was stated that they were white supremacists or trolls.
2. We (still) do not know how much money was raised or spent.
3. It is not clear that taxes were ever filed for Justice Together.
4. A majority of state directors detailed their experiences with Justice Together.
5. Shaun unilaterally disbanded the Justice Together board in the midst of questions being asked by the board.
6. The challenges with Justice Together were foreshadowed by the other organization he began and disbanded immediately beforehand, Justice, That’s All.
Mckesson expounded on each point with impressive detail. The entire essay is lengthy, but includes a strong and thorough thread all the way through King’s most recent transgressions. He also questioned King’s claims of raising over $35 million in funds for various charities. Apparently King was simply claiming the fundraising efforts of organizations he had shared information about on social media.
Then there is Clarissa Brooks.
On January 14, 2019, he sent an email to Clarissa Brooks, a young black activist, noting that if she did not remove a tweet which he understood to be defamatory, he would sue her. An overview of this incident can be found here.
In this e-mail, he noted that he had hired 4 lawyers who would complete the legal action against her: Ben Crump, Ron Sullivan, Lee Merrit and India Sneed.
Ben Crump represented both Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown’s families, amongst others. Ron Sullivan is the Harvard Professor most widely known today because he represented Harvey Weinstein. Lee Merrit has represented several families whose lives have been impacted by police violence.
It is my understanding that Shaun did not actually hire all of these lawyers but instead used their names and his relationship with them to threaten Clarissa into submission.
Many people were concerned about Shaun’s threat to Clarissa, which caused him to offer a statement akin to an apology.
Mckesson goes to painstaking lengths to expose the depth of King’s financial scams and mistreatment of employees. It is an impressive collection of information, witness reports and records.
What is even more impressive is his willingness to call out the bad eggs at the risk of humiliating a movement he believes in.