Which Side Is Michael Jordan On?

Michael Jordan. (Photo: Simplistic.Designs)Michael Jordan. (Photo: Simplistic.Designs)

Michael Jordan recently announced his plan to donate $2 million in response to the shootings of Black Americans and police officers. For some, Jordan’s actions come at a curious time.

US law enforcement officials have been killing, brutalizing and harassing Black people for as long as we have been here. Despite all of the names that have been consecrated through hashtag burials, it seems that police officers had to die before Jordan was sufficiently moved to open his mouth and wallet.

Even more worrisome than the timing, Jordan is missing the opportunity to use his money to address the root causes of the police brutality. Giving a million-dollar donation to such a long-standing and well-established civil rights organization as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is safe. It’s a well-respected organization that does good work through traditional channels and means. It seems akin to putting money in a savings account rather than investing in a start-up. Your cash is safe, but you can only expect nominal returns. It’s not at all a generative strategy.

Jordan’s other choice, the International Association of the Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) Institute for Community-Police Relations, is disconcerting, to say the least.

On October 24, 2015, organizations dedicated to a world where we can all live with human dignity instead of in fear of violence by the state organized a direct action at the IACP annual conference. At that conference, law enforcement officials from around the world learned about best practices and technologies to control, censor and kill in the name of “public safety.” It is rather absurd that IACP is now trying to build trust between police officers and residents of the communities that they occupy.

Piecemeal reform efforts that encourage dialogue and relationship-building between civilians and police are much more comfortable than reforms that attack the causes of racism. However, as Mariame Kaba says, such dialogues reinforce the “bad apples” theory of oppressive policing — the idea that individual bad officers are the problem — and ignores the fact that violence and corruption are inherent in the culture of US policing.

Of course, police officers are people, too. Being a police officer comes with risks. However, those risks shrink when the badge and uniform come off. Black people can’t take off our skin. Our high risk is permanent as long as police are in our communities. Jordan’s $2 million won’t change that.

The police and the punishment systems they feed are over-resourced, while Black communities languish and struggle for basic services and resources. Poverty is what is at the root of the crimes that police are called upon to “prevent” and respond to.

That $2 million could have helped fund organizations pushing for the newly released #Vision4BlackLives and working to develop strategies that empower communities to rely on each other to address violence and harm, instead of turning to police. Jordan could have built a conflict resolution and mediation center, or funded a jobs program in his hometown. Really, he could have made his donations to support the many innovative strategies burgeoning in the Black Lives Matter movement to create alternatives to police in our communities. But he missed his shot.

It’s not too late for the rest of us to make an investment to build Black futures. But we can’t build Black futures and the police state at the same time. Jordan and other donors can’t play both sides of the fence. They’re either for freedom now, or not.

It’s time to decide and take action to build freedom.

What side are you on?