Bankole: Detroit business leaders must get behind police reform

Bankole Thompson

The serious character of this new crisis of police brutality that has quickly become a global movement for black humanity, should force corporations to thoroughly re-examine their own commitments and assumptions about the internal pressing issues of inequality facing black people. 

Black consumers play an indispensable role in corporations' fiscal projections and profit margins. The black consumer market has always been a reliable factor in the annual gross profits that many companies in America reap. Since blacks have always been part of profit-making corporate strategies, it is no surprise that some corporations, worried about the fallout and long term consequence of George Floyd’s death, are now adopting the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” whether they mean it or not.  

But CEOs of major corporations in Detroit that are the vanguards of the economic power structure, must as a matter of urgency, demonstrate that they are sufficiently concerned about the well-being of black people as victims of unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

Detroit CEOs must go beyond a public condemnation of racism and offer a deliberate and progressive response to the crisis, like the current legislation in Congress to remove the legal doctrine — qualified immunity — that protects officers from being targets of civil lawsuits in police brutality cases. 

General Motors recently announced a $10 million fund to support inclusion efforts including an initial $1 milllion going to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. While such efforts would readily be welcomed, that model of old-school corporate engagement won't solve the crisis of police brutality. Simply cutting a big check as a way of checking the diversity box isn't going to work. 

The Black Lives Matter protests taking place are not a call for corporations to sponsor lavish dinners that earn them a seat at a VIP table and a profile on a glossy booklet. The protests are not for certain civil rights groups of declining influences to reestablish their old covenants with white CEOs at the expense of the black masses.  

Rather, these protests are a moral and ethical call for industry captains to demonstrate their conscience by directly supporting legislation that would prevent the needless and innocent massacre of black people in their encounter with police officers. Floyd’s death ushered in an era of renewed demand for emancipation and reconstruction. Writing appeasement checks won’t end the nightmare of police misconduct. 

Demonstrators march down Fort Street in Detroit Sunday in protest against police brutality while chanting Black Lives Matter slogans on Sunday afternoon.

It is entirely possible that in this quest to systematically reform police departments, we may not find the right allies in the corporate community who are willing to challenge the Detroit Police Department under police chief James Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan for the number of disturbing policing issues over the last five years. But that shouldn’t stop the protests call for accountability. 

“One of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. We are protesting for the birth of justice in the community,” the Rev. Martin Luther King said. 

America is facing a reckoning. The demonstrations are a signal that we are potentially on the verge of a cultural and political seismic shift in the long quest for sweeping reforms within our criminal justice system. 

But the failure of corporations to develop a certain praxis during this period to confront police abuse of blacks exposes their limited involvement in fully affirming that black lives matter. That in turn could be interpreted as nakedly exploiting the black consumer market, which significantly helps their bottom line when those annual receipts are reviewed at their investor meetings.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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