Keeping the lights on across America’s bloated prison system surely has its financial benefits, especially for companies in the finance and energy sectors that have helped make racist policing tactics endemic in the U.S.
The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) recently released the results of an investigation into the strong ties between police foundations and U.S. utilities, fossil fuel companies and banks. The report leaves a huge blot on the reputation of corporate America, which over the past several weeks has largely knotted itself into a pretzel as business leaders have tried to prove companies are in alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to PAI’s report, the energy and power generation sectors, along with the financial companies that have funded them over the years, have been active in contributing funds to police foundations in major U.S. cities. These foundations raise money to acquire weapons, surveillance technology and equipment, going beyond what municipal budgets have already been providing police departments. The links between this corporate support for racist policing and environmental degradation are especially visible in major energy producing states like Texas and Louisiana, the report reveals.
Furthermore, these same companies often sponsor parties and fundraisers, including a $5.5 million bash for New York City’s police foundation last year. Such galas offer a stark reminder that police departments and the powerful unions backing them have ongoing generous support of some of America’s largest corporations.
The copious amounts of spending add to what is often anywhere from the 20 to 45 percent of municipal budgets that cities allocate toward local policing efforts. In addition, the acquisition of military hardware, guns, drones – you name it – often occurs with little public oversight, so the racist policing continues with little impunity.
The report's authors go on to explain how the events that have unfolded in U.S. cities such as Atlanta and Portland are partly a reaction to this dynamic between companies and police foundations:
"The ongoing protests have emphasized that police exist to enforce a racist social order that protects corporations, capital, and buildings rather than black and brown lives. Police foundations are a key space for orchestrating, normalizing, and celebrating the collaboration between corporate power and the police."
The energy companies that PAI called out in its report include Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, Shell and Valero. Each of these companies has its share of critics accusing them of polluting communities of color, while funding police departments in cities in which they have operations. Further, these same companies’ executives often have a seat on local police foundations’ boards of directors or take in active role in assisting with these groups’ fundraising efforts.
Utilities that have similar relationships with police foundations, according to PAI, comprise a roster that lists Detroit Edison, Exelon, Entergy and Georgia Power.
PAI’s researchers have also documented the relationships between America’s financial industry, the energy and power companies they fund, and how their connections with police foundations illustrate how fighting back against systemic racism in the U.S. will surely be a tall order.
For example, Bank of America, by at least one account, is a huge funder of the global energy sector, with its inking of more than $150 billion of financing directed to fossil fuel companies between 2016 and 2019. Besides the loans, the bank has either cut large checks or has a seat on the board of various police foundations that stretch coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York, according to the report.
BlackRock, which just recently put dozens of companies “on watch” over their environmental and sustainability performance, is also a major investor in fossil fuel companies, according to a 2019 Guardian report. Larry Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, who makes headlines annually for his annual public letter to corporations urging them to change how they conduct business, is also a donor to New York City’s police foundation. One social justice organization, Color Of Change, recently urged Fink and BlackRock to cut its ties to that foundation.
Reversing this trend and its impact on racist policing will be an uphill fight, acknowledges PAI. “As demands continue to rise to defund the police and reinvest in Black and Brown communities, as well as to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in environmental justice and a just transition, the fossil fuel industry power structure presents a common foe for these interconnected fights,” the report’s authors concluded.
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Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.