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Black tech leaders issue call to action to combat racial injustice in the Bay Area

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 01: protesters with a "BLACK LIVES MATTER" sign march through Center City on June 1, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Demonstrations have erupted all across the country in response to George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody a week ago. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

As a tumultuous week of protests draws broad attention to America’s open wounds of racist police violence, a coalition of Black founders, advocates, investors and other leaders are issuing a call to action for those in the tech industry to stand against the systemic forces that continue to claim Black lives.

The effort, called “Black Tech for Black Lives,” pulls together a set of specific, actionable commitments intended to “support frontline leaders working to create a more just world.” The pledge is designed to elevate Bay Area community leaders working in tech’s epicenter on specific policy goals around issues like policing reform, local elections and by hiring and supporting more Black talent in tech.

The pledge also calls for justice for the Minneapolis police officers who killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man pinned on the neck by an officer for more than eight minutes in a brutal act of disproportionate police violence. The event set off a nationwide movement that’s resulted in historic demonstrations against police brutality in all 50 states.

The pledge’s core group of signers are ReadySet CEO Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Aniyia Williams of Black and Brown Founders and Zebras Unite, Fastly’s Maurice Wilkins and Darrell Jones III of Just Cities and the TechEquity Collaborative. In its announcement, the collective shared its unique perspective on the industry during this deeply painful moment—and on bearing the burden of the long tradition of racist violence that led up to it:

“Tech is complicit. We as Black people in tech have a unique position and opportunity to respond to violence against Black people’s bodies. While we’re proximate to the pain, we largely avoid its most brutal physical outcomes. But we, too, feel the blows. We carry the scars on our psyches and hearts as our voices go largely unheard in the workplace and beyond.”

The group asks for anyone joining its effort to commit to one or more of its five goals:

  • 1. Working toward “swift prosecution” for the individuals who killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade
  • 2. Supporting police reform and accountability through signal boosting, volunteering and donating to organizations like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland’s Coalition for Police Accountability and SF Interrupting Racial Profiling.
  • 3. Committing to “concrete advances in racial justice” by applying pressure to Bay Area police chiefs and police union leaders.
  • 4. Pledging to hire and fund Black employees and founders, and also making real commitments to promote, mentor, sponsor them and support their success.
  • 5. Helping elect local leaders with a proven record advocating for racial and social justice by supporting races for key positions like mayorships, city council seats and district attorneys.

The pledge has been signed by a growing list of more than 30 names, including Y Combinator’s Michael Seibel, Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton, Erica Joy, Bärí A. Williams, Former Obama Foundation CTO Leslie Miley, Kapor Capital Partner Ulili Onovakpuri, Kaya Thomas of We Read Too, Wayne Sutton, PitchBlack founder Stephen Green, The Human Utility founder Tiffani Ashley Bell, TechEquity Collaborative Co-Founder Catherine Bracy and TechCrunch’s own Megan Rose Dickey.

“Recent events make it clear that we can’t go back to the way things were,” the collective writes. “Let’s unite to make sure that Black lives and Black futures both matter.”

The effort also calls on white allies to join the call to action, encouraging them to move away from more passive notions of allyship toward becoming “accomplices“—a framing in activism that evokes an active approach in working toward equity and justice, even if that means transgressing rules or laws in standing against systemic anti-Blackness.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Jones shared some context for the pledge—and reason to believe that the present wave of protests against police injustice and systemic anti-Blackness, even more so than in past national movements, could drive a nation in pain toward lasting change.

“The material condition of black America today are undeniably more desperate than the material conditions of black America during Ferguson, and that is largely due to the coronavirus at the moment,” Jones told TechCrunch.

“When we look at levels of unemployment. When we look at the disproportionate health effects that COVID is having on communities and we look at the levels of business loss and I bet even if we look at the level the distribution of businesses that receive funding from PPP or anything like that, odds are that we’re still disproportionately disadvantaged in all of those categories.”

Jones believes that like conversations around universal basic income—suddenly thrust into mainstream discourse as the pandemic ravages financial stability for millions of Americans—the coronavirus crisis is also accelerating the dialogue around systemic discrimination as it plays out in devastating health outcomes for Black Americans.

As those conversations move forward, Jones says that a “vacuum of reasonable, rational and compassionate leadership” in the federal government is driving more attention toward local change—where the real change happens.

“There will be this rush to the national conversation and to fill that vacuum of leadership nationally, but folks can see—or at least I hope they might see—that the biggest lever they have for change on these issues is right where they live, right here.”

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