Commentary: Fidelity Charitable should stop facilitating funding to organizations espousing racism

George Floyd’s casual murder by police has made it clearer than ever: We must end police violence and white supremacy. Black-led uprisings have brought millions into the streets, and even those previously silent on these issues are starting to speak up. Recently, Abigail Johnson, the CEO of Fidelity Investments, wrote a LinkedIn post stating that she is “heartbroken and angry that racial discrimination and inequality continue to plague our society.”

And yet, behind the scenes, the Fidelity Charitable branch of her corporation lets money from its Donor-Advised Funds flow to organizations that espouse racist idea and practices.

As representatives of the Muslim Justice League, Asian American Resource Workshop, Community Labor United, and the Boston-based Public Good Coalition, we fight outsized corporate influence in Massachusetts and aim to put working families and communities of color at the center of public decision-making. Last year, we asked Ms. Johnson to ensure that Fidelity Charitable stop allowing millions of dollars to be donated to anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ+, and other organized bigotry groups. So far, she has refused.

The groups receiving money from Fidelity Charitable DAFs include the American Freedom Law Center, an anti-Muslim litigation hub whose co-founder, David Yerushalmi, has stated, “I don’t have a problem saying that Western cultural and civilization is simply supreme.” That organization received a total of $1,301,300 in Fidelity Charitable DAF money in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

During this period, Fidelity Charitable facilitated another $87,350 to the New Century Foundation, which promotes pseudo-scientific research that attempts to “prove” white racial supremacy. Its founder, Jared Taylor, has said, “Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.” The New Century Foundation has also dismissed the systemic racism that permeates law enforcement and erroneously claims in one report, “if there is police racial bias in arrests it is negligible”.

 The Public Accountability Initiative and Little Sis recently exposed how police foundations in cities across the nation “can purchase equipment and weapons with little public input or oversight,” raising questions about accountability at a time when police budgets are already hotly contested. During fiscal years 2016 and 2017, Fidelity Charitable enabled at least $45,400 in DAF money to flow to the Boston Police Foundation, an entity whose purpose is to provide private funding to augment the $400 million-plus Boston Police Department budget to “fund special equipment, advanced training, new technology” and other programs. 

Even more troublingly, the Boston Police Foundation bought license plate readers and other technology to support the Boston Police’s Real-Time Crime Center, which is part of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). The BRIC was at the center of a recent ACLU lawsuit against the Boston Police Department because of concerns its “gang database” has inaccurately targeted young people of color and has been unfairly used against at least one immigrant in deportation proceedings.

BRIC has also hired the private social media surveillance outfit Geofeedia, ultimately collecting “thousands of social media posts” from Boston residents “about political and social activism, current events, religious issues, and personal matters totally irrelevant to law enforcement concerns.”

BRIC’s use of Geofeedia included scanning for posts by students protesting public school cuts, posts advancing the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and posts including everyday Arabic words or the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Such surveillance techniques are “likely to treat people as inherently suspicious based on their race, religion, or ethnicity, or because they are politically active, without advancing public safety or criminal investigations.”

Despite Fidelity Charitable’s claim that its donors help “make the world a better place,” Abigail Johnson allows donations to be funneled to organizations that uphold racist ideas and practices. Such leniency speaks volumes to Fidelity’s true motivations: profit over people. Recent demonstrations and polling have shown Massachusetts residents are deeply concerned about systemic racism and racist policing. If Abigail Johnson truly shares those concerns, the least she can do is demonstrate it by leading change within her own organization. 

Fidelity Charitable should not allow money from its Donor-Advised Funds to be funneled to organized bigotry groups. We urge Fidelity Charitable to implement a screening mechanism similar to that adopted by Amalgamated Foundation and 83 other organizations, which forbids “any support of organizations engaged in ‘hateful activities.” This is the only real option if Abigail Johnson and Fidelity are truly committed to “making the world a better place” instead of allowing themselves to be used by agents of white supremacy.

Janhavi Madabushi is the Director of Political Education at Asian American Resource Workshop, a Dorchester-based non-profit organization. Fatema Ahmad is the executive director at Muslim Justice League, where she leads MJL’s efforts to dismantle the criminalization and policing of marginalized communities under national security pretexts. Sophia Costa is an intern at Community Labor United and a student at Tufts University.