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The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late?

Vogue’s September issue was different this year. Anna Wintour and her staff put it together when more than 15 million people were marching in Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and employees at Vogue’s parent company, Condé Nast, were publicly calling out what they viewed as racism in their own workplace. At 316 pages, the issue, titled “Hope,” featured a majority of Black artists, models and photographers, a first for the magazine.

For members of Vogue’s editorial team, the September edition came in the uneasy wake of an internal email Ms. Wintour had sent on June 4. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators,” wrote Ms. Wintour, the Vogue editor in chief since 1988 and Condé Nast’s artistic director since 2013, making her the editorial leader of all its titles. “We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”

Black editors who have worked with Ms. Wintour said they saw her apology as hypocritical, part of a calculated play by an executive known for her ability to gauge the public mood. Other Black journalists who are current or former employees of Condé Nast said the email and the September issue that followed it represented an awkward, though heartfelt, attempt at genuine change.

More than any other institution, Vogue has defined fashion and beauty for generations of women, and the runway looks encouraged by the London-born Ms. Wintour, 70, have trickled down from haute couture houses to fast-fashion retailers and into the hands of everyday consumers. From Manhattan to Hollywood and beyond, she has helped set a standard that has favored white, Eurocentric notions of beauty.

Credit…Will Ragozzino/Getty Images

The rare magazine editor who is known outside the publishing industry, Ms. Wintour — she is simply “Anna” to those in the know, or those who want to be — has become a singular cultural figure. After establishing herself in fashion, media and entertainment in the first part of a career that stretches to the 1970s, she has more recently become a political power player as a bundler for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And as the orchestrator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, better known as the Met Gala, she has transformed an affair for Manhattan’s society set into a full-blown East Coast Oscars, with luminaries from fashion, music, movies and sports on the Anna-controlled guest list.

As Ms. Wintour ascended, Vogue’s publication of “hurtful or intolerant” content rarely resulted in lasting negative attention for her. But Black journalists who have worked with Ms. Wintour, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said they had not gotten over their experiences at a magazine whose workplace mirrored its exclusive pages.

Under Ms. Wintour, 18 people said, Vogue welcomed a certain type of employee — someone who is thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools. Of the 18, 11 people said that, in their view, Ms. Wintour should no longer be in charge of Vogue and should give up her post as Condé Nast’s editorial leader.

“Fashion is bitchy,” one former Black staff member said. “It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?”

Many of the people interviewed for this article said the racism they encountered was usually subtle, but sometimes blunt. Their main accusation was that Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.

Many Black people who worked for her said they felt so out of place in Ms. Wintour’s domain that they created white alter egos — two used the term “doppelgänger” — just to get through the workday, reconditioning their presentation and dress in a way that was mentally draining.

Some Black editors did not want to comment on the experience of fellow colleagues, but offered another view. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor of Teen Vogue since 2018, said she had experienced uncomfortable moments in the industry but that Ms. Wintour “has given me opportunities in leadership, and I’ve made inclusivity a deep part of the conversations we’re having.”

Three other people of color said Condé Nast had made positive changes and Ms. Wintour had promoted them to top roles. Naomi Campbell, one of the first Black supermodels, who was on the cover of Ms. Wintour’s first September issue in 1989, vehemently defended the editor.


Credit…Condé Nast

“The first cover try I ever did, I had no idea she had to fight for me,” Ms. Campbell said. “She’s been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.”

The recent tumult at Condé Nast has knocked Ms. Wintour off balance. Inspired by the protests that arose after the police killing of George Floyd in May, employees have confronted their bosses at companywide meetings and in smaller gatherings. Their complaints have led to the resignations of key editors and pledges from the chief executive, Roger Lynch, and Ms. Wintour herself, to revamp Condé Nast’s hiring practices.

“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Ms. Wintour said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”

Devoting the September issue — the most important of Vogue’s year — to Black contributors indicates Ms. Wintour grasps the intensity of the protest movement roiling the country. But in fashion, of course, appearances are paramount. During a large Condé Nast meeting on race in June, Ms. Wintour — who is the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council — was conspicuously absent. Employees exchanged Slack and text messages during the session, asking the same question: “Where’s Anna?”

Long before Condé Nast employees went public with complaints about the company’s handling of race, Ms. Wintour has been criticized for Vogue’s portrayals of Black people.

For many readers, a 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen was reminiscent of racist images of Black men from a century ago. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist, and some saw an unmistakable parallel to a racist World War I propaganda poster. Ms. Wintour also drew criticism when she helped the fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after he was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks and declaring, “I love Hitler.” She continued to support Mr. Galliano even after he was found guilty of a hate crime by a Paris court.

Being indisputably the most important magazine in fashion means Vogue comes in for extra scrutiny — especially in its cover selections. Last year, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of cover models’ skin tones. In one span, from 2000 to 2005, only three of 81 women were Black. In a statement, Condé Nast said that from 2017 to 2020, 32 percent of Vogue covers featured Black women.

Former Vogue employees said that in recent years, Ms. Wintour has not kept pace with the public’s changing attitudes on issues of racism and discrimination. At a London fashion week party hosted by Burberry in February 2017, the reality TV star Kendall Jenner showed up with a new look: fake gold teeth. Vogue noted the choice in a breezy online story written by a white contributor: “The flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”

A Black staff member contacted one of the magazine’s executives to object, saying the story insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. Other staff members brought the article to Ms. Wintour’s attention, with one lieutenant explaining by email why some people on staff and on social media had reacted negatively: “If Kendall wants to do something stupid fine but our writers (especially white ones) don’t need to weigh in and glorify it or ascribe reasons to it that read culturally insensitive.”



Ms. Wintour appeared not to grasp the issue. After several exchanges, she wrote: “Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Condé Nast said in a statement: “The coverage itself is not cultural appropriation.”

Vogue’s content has, though, been accused of being exactly that. The March 2017 issue showcased Karlie Kloss, a white model, in a geisha outfit, with her face in pale makeup and her hair dyed black — a blatant form of yellowface. Readers condemned the layout, which was shot in Japan by Mikael Jansson and included a photograph of Ms. Kloss with a sumo wrestler. New York Magazine’s fashion site The Cut was among the many critics, writing: “One thing’s for certain: Embracing diversity does not mean styling Karlie Kloss as a geisha.”


Credit…Mikael Jansson

A Condé Nast human resources executive in charge of the company’s diversity program fielded numerous complaints, and alerted Ms. Wintour. According to three people with direct knowledge of the exchange, Ms. Wintour responded that she took full responsibility, but added the feature could not have been cut because of its “enormous expense.”

After an online outcry, Ms. Kloss issued an apology on Twitter: “These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive.”

The tweet angered Ms. Wintour, according to the three people, and Ms. Kloss sent a note in an effort to mollify her. “I imagine the feeling is mutual, that it was hurtful to see the criticism from our Japan trip,” the model wrote. “I had written a short piece on social media as I wanted to make known that it was never my intention to offend or upset anyone from this spread.”

Ms. Wintour’s reply the following day was icy: “Thanks Karlie another time please give us a heads up if you are writing about a Vogue issue.” (Ms. Kloss has continued to appear in the magazine’s pages.)

In the fall of 2017, there was yet another awkward exchange on race between Ms. Wintour and Vogue staff members. It concerned a photo shoot by Patrick Demarchelier that showed several dark-skinned Black models wearing head scarves.

As Ms. Wintour weighed whether to publish the images, she asked an employee by email if they might be misconstrued as racist. But she flubbed the attempt, using a dated, offensive term: “Don’t mean to use an inappropriate word, but pica ninny came to mind,” Ms. Wintour wrote.


Credit…Patrick Demarchelier

In a statement, Ms. Wintour said: “I was trying both to express my concern for how our readers could have interpreted a photo and raise the issue for discussion, and I used a term that was offensive. And for that, I truly apologize.”

In the 2017 email, Ms. Wintour requested that a specific Black staff member evaluate the photo shoot. The employee, an assistant, told her superiors that the work was fine. The real problem, she continued, according to several people familiar with the meeting, was why a low-ranked person such as herself had been asked to assess it. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.


Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

For Ms. Wintour, who descends from British nobility and was recently made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the pace of the current moment of protest may be a challenge. But she is also the daughter of a London newspaper editor and has made a career out of anticipating and responding adroitly to cultural trends.

In 2016, Ms. Wintour made a change to her pool of assistants. (She had three aides for many years, but more recently has had two.) That year, according to three Condé Nast employees, she told the company’s human resources department that her next assistant should be Black. Eventually, most of her assistants were people of color, the people said. The job is highly sought after, a steppingstone to bigger roles in fashion and media, but because it is low-paying, it usually goes to women from wealthy families. The sight of Ms. Wintour’s new adjutants made for a vivid contrast with the usual Vogue hires.

In 2017, Ms. Wintour was part of the small committee that decided to replace the departing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter with Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The Times, making her one of the few top editors of color in Condé Nast’s history. Ms. Wintour has since championed Ms. Jones against in-house naysayers who complained that she had featured too many people of color in Vanity Fair. “My experiences with Anna have been nothing but positive,” Ms. Jones said. “She’s supportive of my vision and she understands what I’ve been trying to achieve and she has helped me to achieve it.”


Credit…Acielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

Last month, Ms. Wintour replaced Stuart Emmrich, a former Styles editor at The Times, as the editor of the Vogue website with Chioma Nnadi, a Black woman who had been the magazine’s fashion director. And in August, Ms. Wintour was instrumental in the hiring of the superstar book executive Dawn Davis, who is Black, as the editor of Bon Appétit. (She replaced Adam Rapoport, who resigned under pressure in June after staff members accused him of running a discriminatory workplace.)

In a statement, Condé Nast said that 42 percent of its editors in chief were now people of color — all of them put in place by Ms. Wintour — and that all photo shoots are ultimately overseen by Raúl Martinez, the corporate creative director, who is the son of Cuban émigrés.

Some of Ms. Wintour’s relationships with Black editors have been rocky. André Leon Talley, a fashion titan, was one of Vogue’s most recognized personalities, often seated beside Ms. Wintour in the front row at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York. She lavished professional and financial support on Mr. Talley, but the two had a falling-out, and he left the magazine in 2013.

This year, he published a memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” which reads in part as a scathing takedown of the fashion industry for its whiteness. During a promotional interview, a podcaster asked Mr. Talley about Ms. Wintour’s apology for Vogue’s “hurtful or intolerant” content. “Dame Anna Wintour is a colonial broad,” Mr. Talley replied. “She’s part of an environment of colonialism. She is entitled and I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”


Credit…Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

Edward Enninful, a Black editor at Condé Nast who has led British Vogue since 2017, is among the next generation of Condé Nast leaders, and is often mentioned as Ms. Wintour’s potential successor at the magazine’s American flagship. The two are said to have a difficult working relationship, according to people in New York and London who have directly observed their dynamic. (In July, Mr. Enninful said that a security guard at Condé Nast’s London office racially profiled him, telling him to “use the loading bay.” Mr. Enninful described the incident on Instagram, writing “Change needs to happen now.” Condé Nast dismissed the guard, he said, and the post has since been deleted.)

When Ms. Wintour promoted Elaine Welteroth, a Black woman, to a top position at Teen Vogue in 2016, the appointment was heralded as a step forward for diversity. But the promotion was fraught, Ms. Welteroth wrote in her 2019 memoir, “More Than Enough.” Instead of running Teen Vogue herself, as the editor in chief, she was given a more ambiguous title, “editor,” and was asked to split leadership of the publication with two others. Ms. Welteroth felt that the structure effectively sidelined her, giving her less power than that of the previous Teen Vogue boss, Amy Astley. (A year after her appointment, Ms. Welteroth was named editor in chief. She left Condé Nast in 2018.)

“Would any of it have gone down this way if I were a White man?” Ms. Welteroth wrote.

The killing of Mr. Floyd sparked difficult discussions about race and diversity in magazines and newspapers across the country, including at The Times. Employees everywhere have become more vocal about what they see as racist attitudes in the workplace.

At Condé Nast, Bon Appétit, a rising profit center thanks in part to its popular cooking videos, has been the red-hot center of dissent in recent months, with many of its staff members quitting in protest. Before the hiring of Ms. Davis to lead the magazine, Ms. Wintour watched closely over its editorial operations, people who worked at the property said.

At the time, people of color who had been featured in the videos complained that they were paid less than their white colleagues and that Bon Appétit had whitewashed their recipes — a trend in food journalism where ethnic cuisines are recast from a white perspective. Readers flooded the comments section of Bon Appétit’s Instagram account with messages of support for those who complained.

In a post to Bon Appétit’s account, Priya Krishna, a freelancer who had accused Condé Nast of unequal pay, was quoted as saying: “I have been forced to think outside of myself and my identity my entire career. So why can’t white editors change their mindset now?”

Ms. Wintour asked to have the item removed, according to internal Condé Nast Slack messages. But by the time of her request, the Krishna post had been online for hours, and Ms. Wintour was warned that deleting it would only attract more attention. The social media team suggested posting new content that would push the item down in users’ feeds. Ms. Wintour approved the plan, according to two people involved in the discussion.

Marcus Samuelsson, a celebrity chef who signed a one-year agreement with Condé Nast as a Bon Appétit consultant, said the company’s history with diversity “was challenging,” but he added that Ms. Wintour had worked to create more inclusivity. “She championed it from Day 1,” he said.

Many people who have worked at Vogue or with Ms. Wintour said that despite her moves toward a more diverse staff, she was still responsible for a hostile workplace. They singled out two of Ms. Wintour’s best known lieutenants: Phyllis Posnick, a Vogue editor who styled the 2017 geisha and head scarf shoots, and Grace Coddington, another fixture at the magazine.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, as staff members were despondent that Mrs. Clinton had lost to Donald J. Trump, Ms. Posnick said, in a voice that three people could hear, “I knew this was going to happen. It’s all the Blacks’ fault. They didn’t vote.” The next year, when Rihanna showed up late for Vogue’s annual fashion conference — hardly an unusual occurrence for a musician — two people heard Ms. Coddington say, “Black people are late everywhere.”

In a statement, Ms. Posnick, 78, denied making the comment. “I have never and would never say something like this for the simple fact that I don’t believe it,” she said. Ms. Coddington, 79, also disputed that she had made the Rihanna remark: “Why would I say that when I am perennially late myself?”


Credit…Leslie Kirchhoff

Ms. Coddington is perhaps the second-most visible figure of the Wintour era at Vogue, having stolen multiple scenes in “The September Issue,” a popular 2009 documentary about the magazine. In 2016, the year she switched her Vogue status from employee to freelancer, Ms. Coddington was photographed in her Manhattan kitchen, with a shelf of racist “mammy” figurines clearly visible in the background. The collection was roundly criticized.

In a statement, Condé Nast noted that Ms. Posnick and Ms. Coddington no longer contributed to the magazine.


Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To work at Vogue is to inhabit a kind of prep school dormitory where relationships are defined by family ties and social connections that span generations. For many younger people of color who came from less rarefied backgrounds, gaining a toehold was considerably more difficult.

Condé Nast assistants famously put up with grueling hours and humiliating tasks, a job satirized in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a best-selling novel by a former Wintour assistant and later a hit movie starring Meryl Streep as the demanding boss. The hazing is seen as a rite of passage, part of why the company has the nickname “Condé Nasty.” And while Black staff members acknowledge all that, they said that race complicates matters.

Black employees are often asked to participate, or merely show up for, high-level meetings — a corporate practice known as fronting, six people interviewed for this article said. At Vogue, they have been asked to weigh in on cover images or take part in discussions with advertisers, forums that do not typically call on junior employees.

In a statement, Condé Nast said, “Anna and Vogue and all the leaders at our brands have made concerted efforts to build inclusion into all we do every day.”

In 2016, the actress Lupita Nyong’o showed up at Vogue’s office at One World Trade in Lower Manhattan to discuss a planned photo shoot. Ms. Nyong’o sat down with top editors, who had proposed photographing her in her home country, Kenya, along with some family members. The accompanying article would also focus on her family.

Ms. Nyong’o expressed concern about how her family would be portrayed, saying she feared they might come across as cultural props, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting. After a long pause, a junior editor — the only Black staff member in the room — piped up. Addressing the actress, she suggested that the shoot would be an opportunity to showcase Africa, a rarity in any American magazine, let alone Vogue.

The shoot was a go. And the junior editor was never asked to attend a fashion meeting again.

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Their Bosses Asked Them to Lead Diversity Reviews. Guess Why.

Last June, Deana Jean received a strange request on LinkedIn: A software company wanted her to lead a diversity, equity and inclusion program for their executive suite.

Ms. Jean does not do D.E.I. work. Nor does her LinkedIn profile suggest as much. Her background is in educational technology sales and leadership coaching.

She is, by the way, Black. After a short back-and-forth with the company, Ms. Jean, who is based in New York, learned that she’d been recommended by a former colleague — a person she barely knew. She declined the contract, but asked if the company needed a sales consultant.

“After that, there was no response,” she said. “There’s never a response. On one side, they’re looking at me as a Black woman, which means I’m automatically equipped to deliver diversity, equity and inclusion. But then on the other side, that is the only thing you see me as able to do.”

For many Black professionals, the experience of being asked — or even required — to lead or participate in a company’s diversity and inclusion work simply because of their race is an uncomfortable ritual. Ms. Jean said she has been in such situations before, often because she has been the only Black person in the room.

As the corporate world continues its attempt to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, such requests threaten to undermine the inclusion efforts they’re supposed to promote. Bosses, managers and colleagues — well-intentioned or otherwise — often fail to recognize the emotional and professional stakes of giving Black employees D.E.I. tasks, like reviewing or writing company statements, leading anti-racism meetings or heading employee resource groups, especially when it’s not their area of expertise.

Many companies seek out consulting firms that specialize in D.E.I., including Awaken, the Dignitas Agency and Inclusion Strategy Solutions. Michelle Kim, the chief executive of Awaken, based in Oakland, Calif., said her company has been so inundated with requests that she created a database of Black-owned agencies to manage the overflow. The firms sometimes field requests for help from salaried Black workers whose employers have asked them to review race-related issues on their own.

“To assume that every Black person has the skills and desire and knowledge for this work is tokenization,” Ms. Kim said.

Paula Edgar, a partner at Inclusion Strategy Solutions, agreed. “I find it ironic because companies outsource expertise for everything else,” she said. “You’re not going to say, ‘We have an accounting need, does anyone know math?’”

For years, diversity, equity and inclusion issues have often been treated as a sideline or add-on in corporate America. During the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, D.E.I.-related job offerings declined at twice the rate as overall job postings, according to a report in mid-July from Glassdoor. Many new businesses don’t make those issues a priority, only taking them up when the companies reach a certain size. By that point, racism and discrimination can already be baked in.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism should be embedded into the DNA of organizations in a fully realized way,” said Kim Crowder, a consultant based in Indianapolis, who specializes in such issues. But companies tend “to stuff D.E.I. into the corner and hand it over to HR or level it to employee resource groups.”

Often, employers don’t know the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion. “The No. 1 question everyone is asking right now is, ‘How do we hire more people of color?’ or ‘How do we have more Black candidates in our pipeline?’” Ms. Kim said. That only addresses diversity; it ignores equity, equally distributing resources based on the specific needs of underrepresented groups; and inclusion, having real decision-making power. “We need to be specific about naming the problem we’re trying to solve and prescribing the right medicine,” Ms. Kim said. “That’s anti-racism training.”

Some D.E.I. consultants I spoke with said, essentially, more power to those Black employees who are happy to take on such assignments from their employers. But without proper boundaries, they said, people risk being taken advantage of.

Ms. Edgar laid out a list of questions for Black workers to consider before taking on those responsibilities: “What percentage of your time will be taken for this? How much will this benefit you — are you making the culture better, or will you have access to leadership to help your trajectory? Is there any compensation — vacation time, increase in pay or a bonus structure? Specifically for lawyers, is there credit to your required billable hours?”

Black employees must also consider whether they have the right emotional reserves, she added. “All eyes and expectations will be on you,” she said. And that could have lasting consequences.

Ms. Crowder used to work for a local government agency. Once, she said, she was asked to hire a replacement for one of her team members. But when Ms. Crowder tried to get her choice — a Black woman — the same salary as the woman’s white predecessor, she was questioned repeatedly about the candidate’s credentials and eventually, Ms. Crowder was sidelined. It wasn’t a unique experience, she said.

“When I tried to speak about my own experiences around racism within organizations, I was shunned and turned into an outcast,” Ms. Crowder said. “I was bullied out of the workplace and didn’t receive fair treatment, nor support or acknowledgment for my ideas and hard work.”

She said she decided to specialize in D.E.I. consulting. “I feel strongly that current employees should avoid and not be asked to become the ‘expert’ on diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations,” Ms. Crowder said. “They are often not protected and don’t have the power to make changes.”

Untrained employees may also be unprepared to shoulder the emotional weight of the work. “I’m literally a therapist. They dump everything on,” said Jennifer Payne, a communications strategist whose company, Social Sovereign, is consulting on D.E.I. for companies in Michigan and Los Angeles. “I don’t have all the answers, and sometimes it is very emotionally draining. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis, a racial injustice movement. And at same time, everybody wants to ask questions about what is it like to be Black.”

Stacy Parson, a partner at Dignitas, which is based in Boise, Idaho, said Black employees need a chance to heal before they’re asked to help bring about change. “Answering those questions comes at a cost,” she said. “We’re talking about trauma. If we can recognize that witnessing a man getting killed on TV for no good reason is traumatic for Black people, then it’s traumatic for them to revisit it.”

So many companies have issued statements in support of Black Lives Matter that it’s easy for managers to believe that everyone on staff will be receptive to diversity efforts. That’s not the case. This summer, Ms. Payne said, employees of all races have asked her: “Are we supposed to be having these conversations in the workplace? I thought these topics were off limits, like religion and politics.”

That makes it easy for Black employees leading the diversity and inclusion efforts to end up on the receiving end of their colleagues’ confusion and frustration. Even their anger. “When you start digging into political differences, like Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, this can be an ugly discussion,” said Lindsey D.G. Dates, a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg, who has been asked to lead on diversity and inclusion efforts at the law firm. “So the risk that you run by having these discussions so publicly, is that you can be ostracized by colleagues, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Mr. Dates said he had taken on the work despite those risks. “I do not come to these conversations enthusiastically,” he said. “With that said, I do believe I have an obligation to advocate for people like me.”

Qhaurium Douglas, a lawyer and consultant in Oklahoma City, said she gave a categorical “no” when a colleague asked her to lead an educational workshop on the Black Lives Matter protests. She said she had seen other employees at her firm post articles on Twitter about the criminal records of police brutality victims. “As if that was a justification for a death sentence,” Ms. Douglas said.

She understood that her co-workers were uninformed, but she said she suspected they didn’t want to learn. “The willful ignorance was blatant,” she said.

Further, she worried that the conversation would devolve into a political debate, which she was not emotionally prepared to handle. “I didn’t want to contribute to that me vs. you dynamic,” she said. “Black Lives Matter is not a statement for you to disagree with or feel bad about or have to defend.”

Like Ms. Jean, Mr. Dates was approached on LinkedIn to give a talk about diversity and inclusion despite having no training in the field. The request came from a professional organization for in-house counsels, who had seen a post he’d written about systemic racism. He gave a lot of thought about whether to accept, and ultimately said yes.

But he decided to approach the presentation as a litigator. “In many ways, I was freer to make points that a diversity and inclusion professional cannot make,” he said. “It’s not their job to ostracize people but to bring people to the table.” Mr. Dates said he had a different objective: to kick out the table’s legs.

He approached the group as if he were building a legal case before a jury. Brick by brick, he said, he led them to the conclusion that American law firms are bastions for segregation and would remain so until more Black lawyers became capital partners. He wasn’t subtle; he named the hypothetical law firm in his talk Jim and Crow LLP. “I got a lot of surprised looks. A lot of stunned faces,” he said. But he said he believed his argument left an impression.

Mr. Dates said that diversity and inclusion professionals play an important role. His law firm is unusual in that one of its partners is an expert in the field. Her encouragement, he said, is why he decided to join a new committee addressing equity and inclusion at the firm.

“It’s uncomfortable to have these difficult conversations when you have not done the hard work of building relationships with the people you want to talk to,” he said. “But so many firms leave their Black lawyers in utter isolation to the point that it’s embarrassing for them to reach out to them for their own self- interested purposes.”

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Michele Roberts Helped Put ‘Black Lives Matter’ on N.B.A. Courts

In early March, Michele Roberts announced she would be stepping down as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association after six years on the job.

Days later, the National Basketball Association said it was suspending its season because of the coronavirus. Basketball was the first major sport to shut down, and the decision became one of the defining moments of normal life around the country rapidly grinding to a halt.

Six months later, Ms. Roberts is still on the job, and working as hard as ever. She helped the league, owners and players design the “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., where the N.B.A. resumed play at the end of July. As part of those negotiations, she worked with stars like LeBron James and Chris Paul to get the league to paint “Black Lives Matter” on every court, embrace the concept of printing messages supporting social justice on jerseys and set up a fund to support economic growth in Black communities.

That work continued last month when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court after the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, by the police in Kenosha, Wis. The Bucks’ decision triggered a leaguewide stoppage, and prompted players in other sports to join the protests. For a short time, it was unclear if the N.B.A. season would continue.

The players ultimately agreed to resume play, but not before Ms. Roberts collaborated with them to get the league to agree to additional efforts to promote racial justice, including a commitment to try to use some N.B.A. arenas as voting sites in November.

Her work isn’t done. While players won a lucrative contract three years ago, the pandemic has upended the economics of live sports, and Ms. Roberts, the union and league officials are trying to figure out when the next N.B.A. season will begin, under what conditions it will be played and how much money players will earn.

Ms. Roberts had no experience in the sports business before taking over the players association. She had spent decades as a lawyer, first as a public defender and then as a corporate attorney at firms including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. But basketball, Ms. Roberts said, was “another business that I had to immerse myself in.”

“I had to understand its historical context, the relationship between management and labor, figure out who the stakeholders were and identify my enemies and friends,” she said in an interview from the bubble. “It was very much the way I prepared when I would get a new corporate client.”

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Tell me about growing up in New York.

I grew up in the projects in the South Bronx. We were poor. My mom raised us pretty much on her own. She was an extraordinary woman. She kept me safe, happy, fed and sheltered. And she kept me dreaming that there was nothing I couldn’t do. I give myself zero credit for this wistful desire to be great. My mom decided that, and I went along with the program.

What was the program like?

When you got home from school, you didn’t play. You went upstairs and did your homework. We had a television, but it didn’t go on until my mom had a chance to make sure the homework was done. If I brought home a B, I had to explain why it wasn’t an A. It sounds harsh, but I didn’t feel put upon. I enjoyed school. I loved to read.

Why did you decide to become a public defender?

My mom introduced me to the world of litigation and trial work. She was a trial watcher. It was a hobby she somehow developed. She liked to go watch cases and arraignments in a nearby court, and I went with her. I didn’t understand half of what I was seeing, but I thought it was the most magnificent thing in the world, and very early on I wanted to be a lawyer.

What did you learn about the American criminal justice system during your time as a lawyer?

I think the apparatus, the legal system, is second to none on the planet. I mean, if you think about the notion of a presumption of innocence — that someone does not have to prove his or her innocence, but instead that the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — that’s an incredibly high standard. And the system is required to appoint competent counsel. So there’s nothing that strikes me as being necessarily wrong with the legal apparatus.

It’s the operation of the system that can be horrifying, especially if you’re a person of color, and most especially if you’re poor, no matter what color you are. People say the criminal justice system is corrupt, and there’s some truth to that. But the corruption comes from the actors who abuse it. It’s not the system itself that is inherently corrupt.

As a woman leading a group of male players, have you ever felt like your gender was an issue?

Admittedly there was a time when I’d be incredibly conscious of the fact that I was the only woman at a meeting, or the only woman in the courtroom, or the only person of color. But I soon realized that spending energy and time on that was detracting from my ability to do my work. And so I trained myself to stop it. I’ve never encouraged anyone to spend a lot of time sitting in a meeting saying: “I’m the only Black woman in this room. Should I say anything? Do they hate me? Do they think I’m stupid?” That’s a process, a passage that I think everyone who looks like me has to go through. But you’ve got to go through it. And then you’ve got to stay through it. Thankfully I’ve been done with that for a while.

Why do you think we’re seeing players engage in social activism so forcefully these days?

Two words: social media. I have not stopped being amazed at the reach that is made possible through social media. When a new kid comes into the league I’ll check his Facebook and Twitter accounts, and he has 250,000 followers. Because he plays basketball and is very good at it, people want to hear what he has to say. That’s power.

These guys feel both the power but also the responsibility that they have. If they feel passionately about an issue, and they do, they want to be able to say: “This is wrong. This has to change.”

It’s a very different viewing experience now, with “Black Lives Matter” written on the courts, the slogans on the jerseys, and the announcers talking about Breonna Taylor and the Tulsa race massacre.

The world has changed. People always say, “When I watch sports, I just want to shut off the rest of the world.” OK. But the world is still out there. You can spend that two hours watching a basketball game, but the minute you click off that game, it’s still the case that Black men are being killed disproportionately in their contact with police. The world right now is on fire.

I’m a Christian. And so I think that I have responsibility to understand what’s going on in my world and in my community. If I was blissfully ignorant of what’s going on in the streets, I would consider it a sin. And people that want to just put blinders on and just not be bothered with events in the world that are uncomfortable, you know, shame on them.

The walkout following the shooting of Jacob Blake prompted athletes from other sports to take action, too. What did the N.B.A. players learn from that experience?

One of the reasons they decided to continue to play was because they saw the overwhelming amount of media attention that they received, and they observed the influence their behavior had on athletes in other sports. It just underscores that if they really want to influence what’s happening in this country, they can, and they can do it collectively in a way that sends a message throughout the country and around the world. To the extent the players didn’t appreciate their reach, they certainly do now.

How do you counsel players about these sensitive issues? A recent association meeting allegedly got heated when one player, Patrick Beverley, took issue with you discussing the financial implications of an early end to the season.

I don’t really want to comment on the Patrick thing. What happens in our meetings should stay in our meetings. But players have the responsibility to understand the consequences of their actions with respect to the business. And this is a business. This is how they make their living. Some of them are fortunate to be able to do this for 15 or 20 years. But most of them are not. Most of them have an average of less than five years in the league, and those will likely be their best revenue-generating years. So I’ve got to make sure that they understand what they’re doing, how much it will cost and what’s the impact.

Black men and women are underrepresented in front offices around the league. What needs to be done to change that?

When there’s a challenge to diversify in other industries, you frequently hear the complaint, “Well, it’s just hard to find people that have the skill set and experience to fill these roles.” That’s not something that can be claimed in this game at all. So there is no excuse. The way to remedy it is to be more inclusive. It’s that’s simple. Same thing with women. It just comes down to people just putting their money where their mouths are and just hiring more people of color.

How is the bubble in Orlando working so well?

I’m shocked when I turn the TV on and see college kids who are acting as if they are immortal and congregating with abandon. Our players are about the same age, but they got it. They comply, and people have all been safe. That’s the key. You’ve got to have a protocol, and then you’ve got to have cooperation. It breaks my heart to watch kids who want very much to go back to school and then immediately can get engaged in conduct that can shut these institutions down. They should take a lesson from the Orlando bubble. You can make it work if you just follow the protocol.

What do you think next season will look like, both from a protocol perspective and an economic perspective?

I do think we’ll have a season, but I don’t think it will begin in December. Some bubblelike environment may be necessary. I suspect that we will have a hybrid environment, maybe with division bubbles that last for a certain number of months, and then we stop. But the concept of putting our players in a bubble for an entire season is unrealistic.

There will be a revenue drop. I do see a possibility of there being some reopening of some arenas. But if we’re lucky we will see 25 percent of the revenue that ordinarily comes through gate receipts, etc. That’s optimistic. Hopefully we can soften the blow, but I don’t see us packing arenas.

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A Black Venture Capitalist Sees Challenges as an Investing Edge

Marceau Michel’s idea for a new on-demand staffing company, Werkhorse, was good enough to win a start-up pitch competition and a coveted spot in a tech incubator in Portland, Ore., two years ago. But no matter what he did, Mr. Michel could not seem to land the funding he needed.

As he met with mostly white investors, he had a sneaking suspicion that he was not getting a fair hearing. “I ran into that glass ceiling of being a Black entrepreneur,” he said. “I kept having the goal posts pushed out on me.”

He was told he should first try to obtain more money from family and friends. Or to offer more proof that his idea would really work. Or to reach out again a little later.

After months of frustration, Mr. Michel unleashed a material cri de coeur: a T-shirt bearing the phrase Black Founders Matter and an upraised fist. There was no plan behind it, and he had little time to devote to selling the shirts. He set up an e-commerce system on Shopify to automate their sales and turned his focus back to Werkhorse.

While he wasn’t paying attention, the shirts changed the course of Mr. Michel’s career: They were the catalyst for a new investment fund dedicated to Black-owned businesses that the accidental venture capitalist sees as entwined with racial justice.

Even with the pandemic upending the economy, Mr. Michel raised $1 million for the fund over the course of a month this summer. Those contributions arrived as protests proliferated across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The fund’s $10 million goal is modest compared with those set by Silicon Valley investors — the median size of all venture capital funds this summer was $100 million, according to data by Pitchbook — but Mr. Michel plans to put its resources into companies that he views as strengthened by the obstacles they must overcome.

Black start-up founders face far more difficulty raising money than their white competitors. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a charity based in Missouri that promotes education and entrepreneurship, surveyed more than 500 founders and found that outside investors and lenders put up about two-thirds of the money that white start-up owners use to start their businesses, while Black owners had to put up more than half themselves. On average, 17 percent of the funding to white start-ups came from investors, compared with 1.5 percent for Black founders.

“I see the pain, the frustration, of: ‘Can you see me? I am viable,’” said Philip Gaskin, the foundation’s vice president for entrepreneurship, who works with Black business owners to help them raise capital. “The inequities have been there for a long time.”

Several groups, like Black Angel Tech Fund and the New Voices Fund, already focus specifically on supporting Black business owners, and they are far larger than Mr. Michel’s modest operation. New Voices, for instance, has dedicated its entire $100 million heft to funding start-ups owned by women of color. And in this moment of heightened attention on racial equity, the venture capital community at large has been rushing to pledge additional support for minority-owned businesses.

But rarely is a fund started by someone like Mr. Michel. He does not come from great wealth or even start-up success. Instead, he is turning the frustrations he faced with his first company into a way to help others overcome the same challenges.

And more than most venture capitalists, Mr. Michel can relate to the business owners he is seeking to support. The son of Haitian immigrants, Mr. Michel grew up in Queens in a family that was financially secure but that had little to spare on speculative investments like Werkhorse.

“My parents came from poverty, so they had turned over a leaf of being stable and raising me in a stable environment,” Mr. Michel said. “They didn’t have the capital to give me to invest.”

But even as the typical barriers Black start-ups face were stalling Werkhorse, Black Founders Matter was gaining momentum.

Credit…Akila Fields

Rick Turoczy, a founder at the Portland Incubator Experiment, where Werkhorse was based, put the Black Founders Matter shirts on his blog, Silicon Florist. So far, Mr. Michel has sold about $10,000 in shirts.

Mr. Michel began to tell his story to local business publications, and it resonated. “There weren’t many voices, Black voices, that were asserting themselves in this space,” he said. “I happened to be one that someone caught wind of.”

A report in Black Enterprise Magazine was spotted by the mother of a reporter for TechCrunch, who then contacted Mr. Michel for an article. “That was the interview that changed the future of Black Founders Matter, because she asked what I wanted to do besides sell T-shirts,” he said. Without hesitating, he blurted out an idea about starting a venture fund for Black-owned start-ups. When the reporter asked how much money he would raise, he picked a number — $10 million — and was surprised when it became the headline.

Mr. Michel’s advisers — including Mr. Turoczy — saw an opportunity for him.

“They said: ‘We love what you’re doing and we want to help,’” Mr. Michel said. He put Werkhorse on hold, and the Portland Incubator Experiment’s leaders introduced him to the managing director of a Portland-based venture capital fund, Rogue Venture Partners. Mr. Michel spent six months at Rogue absorbing the customs and procedures of venture capital investing.

By March 14, 2019 — his 35th birthday — Mr. Michel was ready to share a pitch for a venture fund. He presented it to a packed theater in Portland for the incubator’s annual pitchfest: Pie Day, the crowning event of Portland’s start-up scene.

Mr. Michel explained to the crowd how the hurdles that Black business owners face make their businesses more resilient and safer for investors. He pointed out that only 1 percent of investment in tech start-ups went to Black entrepreneurs, and that although Black women owned 12.5 percent of all businesses in the United States, they got only 0.02 percent of investment. And he highlighted examples of Black founders who had excelled — and made boatloads of money for the investors who dared to help them.

“Investing Black is financially viable,” he told the crowd. Then he announced the creation of the Black Founders Matter fund.

Stephanie Kelly and Jason Saunders, a white husband-and-wife team of start-up investors, were drawn to the potential of the companies Mr. Michel wants to support. “If you look at the return on investment there, it’s stratospheric compared to the broader venture universe,” Mr. Saunders said. “It’s kind of the other end of the spectrum from the Bay Area tech bros who have an idea and get $100 million.”

Even though the Black Founders Matter fund hasn’t handed out any money yet, Mr. Michel has already steered funding to one project. In June, he and Himalaya Rao-Potlapally, a venture capital consultant who has become a partner with him in the fund, announced that they had invested $40,000 in a Black-owned start-up publisher called A Kids Book About. Mr. Saunders and Ms. Kelly put up $25,000.

The publisher produces books to help children and parents talk about difficult subjects like bullying and divorce. Jelani Memory helped found the publisher after writing a book for his own children about dealing with racism.

He had such a hard time raising money at first that he found ways to minimize his costs, such as using a print-on-demand service that produced a copy only after a customer had paid for it. That meant Mr. Memory’s business was profitable almost from the start.

“When people really start seeing the metrics, there’s going to be a landslide in that direction,” said Mr. Saunders. He said he and his wife were eager to take part in the $10 million fund.

Recent months have provided Mr. Michel’s fund with obstacles, but also a renewed sense of purpose.

After the onset of the pandemic, “everything went dead” for the fund, Mr. Michel said. “I felt like, maybe this isn’t the right time to be doing this.”

Then came Mr. Floyd’s death in May. Suddenly, Mr. Michel’s idea was not a whisper on the fringe of the venture capital industry but part of a broader discussion on racial equity.

Mr. Michel began attending protests in Portland, which has had some of the country’s most visible demonstrations, and spoke at some of the gatherings. He believes ending police brutality is just the first step toward racial equality.

“If police officers are not killing Black people anymore, does that mean that Black lives are inherently better?” he said.

Without better opportunities for Black Americans to build wealth, Mr. Michel said, “we’re still locking them out of prosperity.”

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A Rush to Use Black Art Leaves the Artists Feeling Used

The streets of New York were crowded with protesters when Shantell Martin received an email from an ad agency last month.

M:United, a firm owned by the global advertising company McCann, wanted to know if Ms. Martin, a Black artist, would be interested in creating a mural about the Black Lives Matter movement on Microsoft’s boarded-up Fifth Avenue storefront. And could she do it, the email said, “while the protests are still relevant and the boards are still up, ideally no later than this coming Sunday?”

Several other Black artists received the same email. In an open letter to Microsoft and McCann, Ms. Martin and the other artists described the invitation as “both shocking and somehow predictable.” They also wrote that it “betrays a telling and dangerous opportunism.”

“In their rush to portray a public solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, companies risk reinscribing what got us all here: the instrumentalization and exploitation of Black labor, ideas and talent for what is ultimately their own benefit and safety,” the group wrote.

The efforts of major companies to publicly support the protests against racism and police brutality have rung hollow for some Black workers in creative fields.

Artists, models, designers, copywriters and others said they had been drafted to lend legitimacy to companies that fail to live up to principles of diversity and inclusion. They said they had been pigeonholed for roles in ad campaigns or penalized when they raised objections about efforts they felt were insensitive, and had been underpaid, or not given proper credit for their work.

After Ms. Martin posted on Instagram on June 6 about the mural request, several McCann employees told her that the ad agency had reached out to her and other artists despite some internal objections about how the project was being handled, she said in an interview. Both Chris Capossela, the chief marketing officer of Microsoft, and Harris Diamond, the chief executive of McCann, apologized publicly to Ms. Martin on Twitter.

The language used in the email to Ms. Martin “was flat out wrong,” Mr. Diamond wrote. Microsoft said in a statement that the message was “an unacceptable mistake” and that the company took “full accountability.”

A group of marketing professionals, Lexie Pérez, Julian Cole, Stephanie Vitacca and Davis Ballard, began tracking the flood of company statements of solidarity in an open Google Slides document that they released on June 5. They noted that companies often seemed to be “seeking participation trophies” and trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement with “empty and vague platitudes,” providing no concrete plans for change and ignoring complaints of inequality internally.

“This is the current issue of the day,” said Sonya Grier, a marketing professor at American University. “It has become almost standard for companies to jump in, because everyone expects them to have some kind of social presence explaining how they align on race.”

So-called protest art has appeared on the doors and boarded windows of upscale brands like Free People, 7 For All Mankind and Hugo Boss. Scores of companies participated in #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram last month, posting black squares on their feeds with captions expressing solidarity with the movement.

But consumers are increasingly sensitive to how companies express their positions. Twenty percent of U.S. adults surveyed in late June said they would stop buying from a company deemed to be acting hypocritically on the issues of police violence and racial injustice, the polling and market research firm Opinium said last week.

After the publishing giant Condé Nast and the website Refinery29 publicly backed the Black Lives Matter movement, they faced accusations of mistreating employees of color. Leaked grooming guidelines for store employees of the Australian fashion label Zimmerman, which recently denounced racism and quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu on its Instagram account, were found to discriminate against Black women who wear their hair naturally.

In a statement, Zimmerman said it condemned racism and was “determined to be part of meaningful and positive change in the global fashion industry.”

Ifeoma Ozoma, a former manager for the image-sharing web service Pinterest, said on Twitter that she and another Black woman had recently left the company after they were subjected to racist and sexist behavior. That behavior included negative feedback from a manager after Ms. Ozoma pushed back against the promotion of plantation weddings on the platform, she said.

The company said in a statement that it planned to diversify its board and commission an external review of employee pay.

Many creative workers are self-employed and are not protected by human resources departments or represented in corporate surveys. Many independent Black artists, like Ms. Martin, said they were frequently asked to provide input on diversity initiatives, but were not compensated as consultants.

Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

Last month, the fashion designer Dionne Clouser saw a design from her Dionne by T brand replicated on the Instagram account of the fast fashion label Pretty Little Thing. She had seen her work borrowed without credit before, but this time, the theft seemed especially brazen. Just a few months earlier, Ms. Clouser said she had turned down an offer to be a brand ambassador for Pretty Little Thing.

But as a small-business owner with limited funds, she opted not to take on the far larger company in court. Pretty Little Thing declined to comment.

“I’ve gotten used to it, but it leaves a bad taste for me,” Ms. Clouser said.

Lydia Okello, a Black queer influencer who uses the pronouns they and them, said they also felt powerless pushing back against large fashion companies. Mx. Okello received an offer from Anthropologie of a free outfit if they published content on Instagram and provided several images to the company for a social media campaign pegged to Pride month. Mx. Okello responded with their standard rates, but said the producer who had reached out repeatedly evaded their request for payment — treatment that they did not believe a straight, white influencer would have experienced.

URBN, the company that owns Anthropologie, said in a statement that it “handled our overture to Lydia poorly.” The company said it was evaluating how to make future interactions with influencers more transparent and respectful while clarifying guidelines for compensation.

“I’ve worked as a Black creative all my adult life, and I’ve noticed that there’s often an assumption that you should feel flattered that this large company is reaching out to you, that it has noticed you, and that reflects a greater cultural narrative that the creative work of marginalized groups is less valuable,” Mx. Okello said. “It’s like, ‘Just shut up and take it, or we’ll find someone else.’”


Credit…Hannah Rebecca Ackeral

Exacerbating the problem is a lack of diversity in leadership roles in the industry. Ad agencies and marketing executives from companies such as General Motors, McDonald’s and Walmart vowed in a public letter to address the issue.

But the messages of solidarity, while encouraging, “ring hollow in the face of our daily lived experiences,” according to a letter signed by hundreds of Black advertising employees in June.

“You have extremely limited people of color in positions of authority at the same time that the marketplace itself is becoming much more diverse,” said Judy Foster Davis, a marketing professor at Eastern Michigan University, who has studied the troubled history of brands like Aunt Jemima. “Then, over the past few years, you see all sorts of marketing blunders.”

Recent gaffes have included racist ads and images from Volkswagen, Dove and H&M.

Saturday Morning, a creative collective focused on racial justice, which has worked with companies like Procter & Gamble and Spotify, issued a call last month for brands to “take bold steps.”

“In order for us to find true equality, there has to be sacrifice and not just sympathy,” said the group of Black advertising executives behind Saturday Morning. “Otherwise this moment will fade away like so many before it.”

Elizabeth Paton contributed reporting.

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Why Is a Tech Executive Installing Security Cameras Around San Francisco?

SAN FRANCISCO — It sounds sinister. A soft-spoken cryptocurrency mogul is paying for a private network of high-definition security cameras around the city. Zoom in and you can see the finest details: the sticker on a cellphone, the make of a backpack, the color of someone’s eyes.

But in San Francisco, a city with a decades-long anti-authority streak, from hippies and pioneering gay rights activists to the techno-utopian libertarians and ultra-progressives of today, the crypto mogul has found a surprisingly receptive audience.

Here’s why: While violent crime is not high in the city, property crime is a constant headache. Anyone who lives here knows you shouldn’t leave anything — not a pile of change, not a scarf — in a parked car. Tourists visiting the city’s vistas like Twin Peaks or the famously windy Lombard Street are easy marks. The city government has struggled to solve the problem.

In the middle of this is Chris Larsen, a 59-year-old tech industry veteran, paying for hundreds of cameras. He sees it as an alternative system of urban security, and he hopes it becomes a model for other cities.

This just may be the best moment for him to explain why a rich guy paying for surveillance cameras all over a city is not a terrifying invasion of privacy. Around the country, Black Lives Matter movement protests have led to a reckoning on policing and how it should be done. Many of the activists leading this movement are fighting to abolish or defund — reduce funding for — police departments. Last week in New York, for example, the mayor announced the police budget would be cut by $1 billion.

In San Francisco, where many locals push for this kind of police reform, those same locals are tired of the break-ins. So how do they reconcile “defund the police” with “stop the smash and grabs”?

Mr. Larsen believes he has the answer: Put security cameras in the hands of neighborhood groups. Put them everywhere. He’s happy to pay for it.

Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

First, let’s state the obvious reason — besides privacy concerns — that Mr. Larsen’s plan might be viewed with suspicion: He’s in tech.

Longtime San Francisco residents and the tech workers have not historically seen eye-to-eye on many things. The natives resent the private tech shuttle buses and the spiraling cost of living brought on by the new arrivals. They even resent their housing aesthetic: Glass and metal and pretty Victorian houses now painted in shades of black and gray.

But here’s where it gets more complicated: Privatization is hardly a new thing in the city. Around a quarter of San Francisco parents send their children to private school, a higher percentage than many large cities, including New York. Private security officers are a common sight. Plenty of people already have security cameras pointing toward the street. So would a privately owned camera network be so out of bounds?

And Mr. Larsen is no tech carpetbagger. He grew up in a middle-class family in the Bay Area. His father worked the night shift as a mechanic at the San Francisco airport. In 1984, he graduated from San Francisco State University, and he is now a major benefactor, donating one of the largest gifts the school has ever received. He also has been a longtime advocate for privacy, cofounding the coalition Californians for Privacy Now to help pass a 2004 privacy bill, California S.B.1, commonly known as the California Financial Information Privacy Act.

In 1997, Mr. Larsen co-founded an online lending company called E-Loan, which went public two years later, and he stayed on as chief executive until 2005. In 2012, he co-founded a start-up that would be called Ripple, which helped people send money online using so-called blockchain technology and the digital token called XRP. During the peak of the speculator-crazed crypto boom of 2017, its value spiked wildly. Mr. Larsen became one of the few crypto entrepreneurs to make and then hang onto that overnight fortune.

His apartment on Russian Hill has a trophy view of San Francisco Bay and the tight curves of Lombard Street. But also: the crews coming in to rob tourists’ cars, right in the middle of the day. Mr. Larsen watches the police drive by, and the criminals arriving 15 seconds later, smashing the vehicles’ windows and stealing luggage.

“They don’t care at all — they don’t care if they’re being seen,” Mr. Larsen said. “It’s brazen.”

His father-in-law’s car was robbed. Mr. Larsen’s own car windows were smashed. When a group of men climbed into his garden and one of them cut the wires on his home security system, while his children were sleeping inside, Mr. Larsen decided that he had had enough.


Credit…Cayce Clifford

When I wrote to Mr. Larsen asking for an interview, he immediately said yes, and he answered all of my questions. He said he knew that what he was doing might raise concerns, so he wanted to be open about it.

Here is what he is doing: Writing checks for nearly $4 million to buy cameras that record high-definition video of the streets and paying to have them maintained by a company called Applied Video Solutions The rest is up to locals in neighborhood coalitions like Community Benefit Districts, nonprofits formed to provide services to the area.

Here is how the project works: Neighbors band together and decide where to put the cameras. They are installed on private property at the discretion of the property owner, and in San Francisco many home and business owners want them. The footage is monitored by the neighborhood coalition. The cameras are always recording.

The cameras are not hidden. Mr. Larsen believes they can serve as both deterrent and aid in investigations, but it is difficult to say how effective they have been in reducing overall crime.

Camera surveillance is happening in a lot of cities, but usually it is managed by police departments. In London, there are around 420,000 closed-circuit cameras, according to a 2017 report by the Brookings Institution, and the city has begun testing using facial recognition software. In New York, too, cameras are common. In Newark, anyone with an internet connection can watch the streets from the city’s police cameras, which have a Newark police department placard to warn that the area is under surveillance.

San Francisco is unique in that the cameras are not being installed and monitored by the police but by private citizens, and it is unique in that one person is paying for so much of it.

Mr. Larsen started installing them in 2012 with just a few around his neighborhood. These days, he funds a network of more than 1,000. He funds the C.B.D.s to control and monitor them. He funds the longstanding nonprofit SF Safe, which supports neighborhood watch groups and the Police Department.

Some of the city’s densest neighborhoods and commercial corridors — like Union Square, Japantown, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Tenderloin and Russian Hill — have signed on, and now the network includes 135 blocks.

“You think they have all these video banks in their police stations? No. Mostly they don’t have decent internet connections,” Mr. Larsen said. “So we helped pay for some internet connections.”

From Japantown’s restaurants and nursing homes to the Union Square shopping district, business and homeowners have welcomed his cameras. Every neighborhood has sought to expand their program since installing. As proponents of Mr. Larsen’s network see things, they get the safety of a surveillance state without the state.

“If you went to the board of supervisors and asked the members to approve this, you’d end up having a conversation about government and surveillance,” said Simon Bertrang, the head of a community benefit district, a coalition of businesses, residents and property owners in the Tenderloin.

A few of the neighborhoods watch the footage live, others don’t. If someone wants the footage — a police officer or a crime victim or a defense lawyer — they ask the neighborhood coalition for it.

His ally in all of this is someone very different and a little surprising: Chesa Boudin, the new, ultraprogressive district attorney of San Francisco.

Mr. Boudin, a fiery lawyer who wants radical policing and sentencing reform, became San Francisco’s district attorney in January. And he won despite a ferocious $700,000 opposition campaign by the city’s Police Department. Now, the 39-year-old Mr. Boudin, son of two members of the militant organization Weather Underground, has elevated the calls to defund police departments.

“In less than 24 hours my office has received over 1,000 emails demanding that San Francisco defund the police department,” he tweeted on June 5.

Mr. Boudin likes Mr. Larsen and vice versa.


Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

In January, Mr. Larsen and Mr. Boudin met in Japantown and walked to its Community Benefit District office. It was a small office with three desks, one tiny dog bed, and two large screens with live video of the streets. The screens are monitored by the two-person benefit district staff. That equipment is paid for by Mr. Larsen. The rest was paid by the benefit district members.

The myriad C.B.D.s, coalitions of local property owners, had mostly been around since the mid-2000s, so Mr. Larsen used that infrastructure as the local organizing unit to take his funding and use his supplier at Applied Video Solutions to buy and install cameras. They said the footage was only stored locally within each C.B.D. office and erased after 30 days.

In Japantown, the group mostly uses the cameras to find where a car window has been shattered or trash has been dumped so they can send the neighborhood’s private cleanup crew, paid for by local property owners. Other events they report to the police department. There was the bike theft, the phone theft, the backpacks and purses. One time a golden retriever was stolen, and they sent the footage to the San Francisco Police Department, which used the cameras to track him down.

Dmitri Shimolin, the head of Applied Video Solutions in San Francisco’s Mission District, was at the computer leading the demonstration. He zoomed in to show the quality of footage the cameras were getting.

“An arrest was made from some footage, and we called the guy ‘Dimples’ because you could see the dimples on his face,” Mr. Shimolin said.

The image quality from the cameras is much better than typical home-security cameras like Ring or Nest, and the field of vision is larger. It is arguably more compelling evidence in court because the video is monitored by a third-party intermediary who can testify that it is a continuous feed. It is time stamped. And because the network covers many blocks, the footage can tell a broader story than a single camera about an event that might be moving from block to block, in the case of, for example, a fight.

One side effect of the cameras is that when one C.B.D. installs them, it seems to push crime just a few blocks away, Mr. Larsen said.

“It’s whack-a-mole,” Mr. Larsen said.

The same day as the Japantown meeting, Mr. Larsen and Mr. Boudin drove to the C.B.D. headquarters in the Tenderloin, the city’s roughest neighborhood. They sat at a folding table with about 10 people. Conspicuously not present: anyone from the Police Department.

Last year, someone was shot dead right in front of the office during a team meeting. Shootings have more than doubled in the neighborhood, up 130 percent in a year, they said. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the number of tents for homeless people in the neighborhood had ballooned from around 120 to around 400, until a lawsuit from local residents led the city to move the tent-dwellers into safe sleeping sites, the group’s leader, Mr. Bertrang, said.

“We don’t have a good law enforcement response right now,” Mr. Boudin told the group. “It takes 10 cops to do a single drug bust, costs $20,000 or something. And I don’t want my attorneys to be doing this for no benefit on the street.”

He said the more effective strategy would be to focus on the crime ring leaders, rather than the people on the sidewalks.

The surveillance footage is completely deleted after 30 days, and Mr. Boudin wondered if it could be stored longer, giving his office more time to put a case together.

“Sixty days would be nice,” Mr. Boudin said. “A preliminary hearing has to happen within 60 days.”

The district attorney knows the alliance is a curious one. If the goal is to reduce the power of police, private donors like Mr. Larsen can be extremely helpful. But he worries their help can also involve private individuals too deeply in crime-fighting, and he is not sure how much to lean on Mr. Larsen. “What I don’t know is where his work ends, right?” Mr. Boudin said. “There’s real risks.”


Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

The protest movement that is rocking police departments around the country hinges on videos. The shaking cellphone videos of killings have captured moments so irrefutable that it has inspired rage from more corners than just longtime police reform activists. Calls to defund police departments are getting real traction.

And into this Mr. Larsen presents his solution: Go around the police.

“This has underscored the importance of not just cameras but of communitywide camera coverage,” Mr. Larsen said. “Body cams show some pretty core weaknesses because we don’t have universal access to police body cam footage, and there’s a fundamental conflict of interest if the video shows something bad for the department.”

The answer is more cameras, he said, and then keep that footage in the hands of citizens.

“We do not work with Mr. Larsen,” a police department spokesman wrote in an email. “There is a process for the department to request footage from the party that manages the cameras. That party has the discretion whether or not to release footage to S.F.P.D.”

When crime-fighting is put into civilian hands, new and unregulated behaviors can emerge. San Francisco’s police are controlled by many laws that do not apply to civilians. One of those laws is that the police in the city may not use facial-recognition technology.

“San Francisco has passed a very sophisticated surveillance ordinance that bans facial recognition by the Police Department, but yet you have these independent agencies within the city limits making their own decisions,” said Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.

The technology that Mr. Larsen is using is sophisticated — video management from Motorola Solutions, evidence management from Genetec. Those same cameras, and the software supporting them, can be used for more than what they are currently doing.

“This is a system that is designed to scale up to do license plate reading and facial recognition,” Mr. Maass said. “That is where it’s going.”

Mr. Larsen balked at the idea of his cameras using facial recognition: “We’re strongly opposed to facial recognition technology,” he said. “Facial recognition is too powerful given the lack of laws and protections to make it acceptable.”

Circumventing the police means a lot of people now can make decisions about how crime is handled, and watchdogs worry about cameras being used for spotty or biased monitoring of the community. Putting more power over security into the hands of local leaders does not mean that power necessarily will be used wisely.

“There is distrust of law enforcement, and so there are these community efforts to self-police,” said Daniel Lawrence, principal research associate at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. But, he added, “there needs to be some sort of system that ensures the laws of society are applicable to everybody.”

Mr. Larsen acknowledged the issue.

He argued that trust will come in the form of full city camera coverage, so police can play a smaller, more subtle role. Individual vigilantism will not work, he argued, but strong neighborhoods with continuous video feeds on every corner will.

“That’s the winning formula,” Mr. Larsen said. “Pure coverage.”

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As Facebook Boycott Grows, Advertisers Grapple With Race

At this time of year, hordes of advertising executives are usually striking deals on yachts in the French Riviera or at meetings in Manhattan, not sitting at home worrying about their future.

But the industry, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, has watched its glamorous midyear calendar morph into a procession of video presentations recorded in bathrooms and backyard sheds. The discussions about audience metrics and targeting technologies have now expanded to include difficult reflections on systemic racism and concerns about an economy in recession.

The annual Cannes Lions advertising festival, which was supposed to take place this week in the south of France, was replaced by several days of online sessions featuring companies like Unilever and guests like Chelsea Clinton. The NewFronts, a separate series of springtime events in New York intended to showcase digital platforms such as Snap, TikTok and Roku, were instead streamed online this week. (YouTube sent out thousands of pizzas to accompany personalized videos.)

But many in the industry were distracted during the week by a growing boycott against Facebook, which Unilever, one of the largest advertisers in the world, joined on Friday. The effort involves dozens of advertisers, such as Honda, Verizon and Patagonia, that are displeased with the social media giant’s hands-off attitude toward posts from President Trump amid widespread protests against racism and police brutality.

Unilever said it would not run advertising on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in the United States for at least the rest of the year, during a “polarized election period.” The company added in a statement that “continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.” Unilever spent $42.4 million advertising on Facebook in the United States last year, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics.

Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, said in an online speech for Cannes Lions on Wednesday that the company would not be “advertising on or near content that we determine is hateful, denigrating or discriminatory.” A spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble declined to say where the company advertises. Ad agencies like IPG Mediabrands said they were working with companies that wanted to cut ties with Facebook.

Coca-Cola said on Friday that it would stop all paid ads on social media platforms globally for at least 30 days, but would not join the official Facebook boycott. The company’s chief executive, James Quincey, said in a statement that it would use the time to re-evaluate its advertising standards and would inform the platforms that “we expect greater accountability, action and transparency from them.”

Coca-Cola spent $22.1 million on Facebook ads last year and more than $18 million on Twitter, according to Pathmatics.

Facebook spends billions of dollars a year to keep its platforms safe and works with outside experts to review and update its policies, the company said in a statement on Friday. But it added that “we know we have more work to do.”

The worldwide uproar over race after the police killing of George Floyd last month was never far from the NewFronts and Cannes presentations this week.

YouTube prefaced its session with a message from Susan Wojcicki, its chief executive, that highlighted black YouTube creators like Marques Brownlee and Greta Onieogou. Hulu kicked off its segment with the rapper RZA calling on viewers to “take action, help us fight against this systemic racism,” saying “you have the platform — use it.” Cannes Lions released a study on bias that found that people of color represented more than 46 percent of screen time in ads last year, but were less likely than white characters to be shown working or portrayed as “smart.”


Vice Media Group announced a plan at the NewFronts to expand its coverage of racism, which it called “The 8:46 Project,” a reference to the nearly nine minutes a police officer spent kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Vice also asked advertisers to reconsider the “antiquated practice of keyword blocklists,” which it said had recently hurt revenue by keeping ads from appearing next to content that mentions terms like “Black Lives Matter,” “protest” and even “Black people.”

The Vice presentation glossed over Refinery29, the women’s lifestyle publication it acquired last year, which faced accusations of discrimination from former employees this month.

Condé Nast’s presentation, however, dealt directly with what one executive called “the elephant in the kitchen”: concerns about racism that led to recent leadership changes at the food publication Bon Appétit and the Condé Nast Entertainment studio. Roger Lynch, Condé Nast’s chief executive, said in a live address that the company had been forced to “hold a mirror up to ourselves” and would create an antiracism advisory council.

“As society is changing, Condé Nast is changing,” he said.

Many of the NewFront sessions were also shot through with anxiety about the advertising industry’s health. Ad spending this year, excluding political advertising, will slump 13 percent in the United States and grow 4 percent next year, according to a forecast this month from GroupM, the media investing arm of the ad giant WPP. That estimate assumes that the reopening of the economy will continue without a resurgence of coronavirus cases pushing the country back into lockdown.


“When advertisers can’t predict what’s going to happen in July, it’s hard to make any substantial commitments for the remainder of the year,” said Christian Juhl, the global chief executive of GroupM. “The underlying economic understanding just isn’t in place right now for people to make a good bet.”

The reluctance to lock down long-term contracts has already led to calls for television networks to adjust how they sell space for commercials during the broadcast year, which starts in October. This week, while previewing programs during their Newfront presentations, many digital platforms tried to address the uncertainty by promising performance guarantees and flexibility in contracts.

Roku offered clients a range of options, including 14-day cancellations and the ability to quickly remove ads from areas where they are no longer relevant (for example, if local stay-at-home guidelines shift).

“The beauty of digital has always been the flexibility and fluidity; unlike linear television, where you commit to a year and you have some limited flexibility, there is a lot more agility built into the digital ecosystem,” said David Cohen, the president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade group, which organizes the Newfronts.

But this year, he said, “regardless of the media type, there’s not going to be a wholesale appetite for committing to a long-term deal without the opportunity to optimize or cancel based on business performance.”

The presentations also promoted technology that would allow viewers to shop directly from commercials. Using QR codes and push notifications on smartphones, Hulu said, viewers will be able to buy directly from companies like Sweetgreen and TheRealReal through ads made using its new GatewayGo format. Condé Nast’s Prime Shoppable technology will be featured in online programs from Vogue and GQ. “The Drop,” a show on Snapchat, will feature fashion collaborations that viewers can purchase while watching.

More than 12,500 people registered for the NewFronts, which wrapped up on Friday afternoon with a plea from the event’s host, the comedian Scott Rogowsky. “If you’re a brand, don’t be scared,” he said. “Stand up — this is your moment.”

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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Bail Funds, Flush With Cash, Learn to ‘Grind Through This Horrible Process’

One afternoon in June, Elisabeth Epps hopped into her partner’s Jeep and rode from Denver to Boulder, carrying cashier’s checks worth nearly $16,000.

She wasn’t going on vacation or buying a new car. She made the 30-mile trip to sit in the reception area at the Boulder jail — or as she called it, the “Boulder County cage” — to bail out three men she had never met.

“I’m here to pay ransom,” Ms. Epps told her followers as she live-streamed herself on Twitter.

Ms. Epps, 40, founded the Colorado Freedom Fund in 2018 — one of nearly 100 community bail funds that have started up across the country in the past decade. The organizations use donor money to secure the release of individuals who are awaiting trial behind bars because they cannot afford their bail. Minus certain fees and lost bonds for people who miss their court dates, the money comes back as clients meet their legal obligations and can be spent again on the next person’s bail.

The grass-roots movement achieved a new level of mainstream attention after the May killing of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis, when demonstrators took to the streets across the country.

During protests in Denver, volunteer medics handed out water bottles with the Colorado Freedom Fund’s phone number on the side. “I took a picture of it, thinking, ‘This is really smart,” said Desiree Wines, who was arrested along with her husband for violating curfew. “In the paddy wagon, I told everyone the number for the Colorado Freedom Fund. I said, ‘Hey guys, repeat this number until you get to a phone,’” Ms. Wines said. The fund paid $500 bail each for her and her husband.

Bail funds have become an instant cause célèbre, with actors and models, singers and rappers posting screenshots of their donations. Since the protests began, more than 3.5 million people and organizations have donated more than $75 million to groups associated with an umbrella organization called the National Bail Fund Network. Another group, the Bail Project — started by the founder of the pathbreaking Bronx Freedom Fund — said it had raised an additional $15 million.

The Colorado Freedom Fund received $1 million, 10 times more than the group had received in the previous two years combined. On a recent Monday, Ms. Epps freed a woman with a single $50,000 cashier’s check — more than the $43,876 her group handed out in all of 2019, to pay 182 bonds.

A thousand miles east, the Chicago Community Bond Fund paid a $400,000 bond on behalf of Chrystul Kizer, 19. She had been held in a Wisconsin jail for two years, accused of killing Randall Volar, 34, in what her supporters say was an act of self-defense by a victim of sex trafficking.

Credit… Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Another group in the network, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, received more than $30 million in donations, nearly 300 times the amount it received in all of 2018, the year of its last public tax filing. Some donors have begun to criticize the group for not putting a large enough share of the money to work quickly enough.

“Nonprofits will get themselves into trouble with donors if they try to save funds or divert funds to other purposes. Witness the post-9/11 problems of the Red Cross,” said Alan J. Abramson, director at the Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy, and Policy at George Mason University. The Red Cross raised over half a billion dollars after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was criticized after trying to repurpose some of the windfall for future disasters.

“It was very easy for people to make donations — click, click,” said Pilar Maria Weiss, director of the Community Justice Exchange, which runs the National Bail Fund Network. “They wanted the freedom part to go the same way.”

“You can’t show up with $31 million and say, ‘Now everybody gets to go home,’” Ms. Weiss added. “You have to grind through this horrible process.”

In greater Denver, Ms. Epps has learned that grind over the past two years. Each jurisdiction has a different payment system — in-person, online, kiosk. Some take cash or debit cards, others only cashier’s checks. It’s a piecemeal system of buying freedom that runs the mileage up on her car and tries her patience daily.

Ms. Epps, who said she was tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets during the recent demonstrations, had an up-close view of the system last year, when she spent 16 days in the Arapahoe County Detention Center. She had been convicted of obstructing a police officer, after interceding when the police tried to question a mentally unstable man. Under the terms of her work release, she typically spent nights in the jail before leaving with an ankle monitor to spend the day bailing other people out.

“Not one woman in my unit needed to be there,” Ms. Epps said. “It even deepened my commitment to abolition. The community was not safer with any of those women spending nights in jail.”

Bail funds have been around in different forms for decades, used by civil-rights groups to prepare for arrests that follow protests and acts of civil disobedience. Some scholars trace their roots to black communities’ pooling money to buy the freedom of enslaved people. But the modern push for bail funds gained momentum with the start of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013; the unrest after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by police in 2014; and the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail in 2015, while her family tried to post $500 to bail her out.

Jocelyn Simonson, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who studies bail funds, said that when she started looking at them in 2014 there were just three or four active ones.

Many bail funds began around fund-raising for specific events before developing into something more permanent. The Chicago Community Bond Fund grew out of an informal effort in 2014 for people arrested at a vigil for 17-year-old DeSean Pittman, who had been shot and killed by the police.

Sharlyn Grace, the executive director, described the appeal: “It’s extremely concrete. There’s immediate impact. You go down to the jail and buy someone’s freedom.”

The organization has raised $5 million since Mr. Floyd’s death. But not all of the funds may go to paying bail. Ms. Grace said she saw the money as belonging to the Black Lives Matter cause more broadly and that the donations were “a movement resource.” How the money is distributed to other groups could raise questions from donors, but Ms. Grace cautioned against too narrow a focus on bonds over broader problems in the criminal justice system. “We have to avoid the fetishization of bail funds in this moment,” she said.

In Colorado, Ms. Epps was inspired by the Black Mama’s Bail Out, which began in 2017 as an annual effort to secure the release of as many black mothers on Mother’s Day as possible. In 2018, Ms. Epps held her own fund-raisers and used the money to help get almost 20 women out.

She set a new goal of running a more permanent fund — the Colorado Freedom Fund. She did not realize just how challenging the “patchwork of administrative red tape” could be, she said. In Boulder, she has to present checks made out to the 20th Judicial District; in Arapahoe, they have to be in the defendant’s name; and in Weld County, they are made out to the sheriff.


Credit…Joe Amon/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

Ms. Epps also works as an organizer in the policy department at the ACLU of Colorado. In 2018, the organization sued the city of Denver on behalf of a Colorado Freedom Fund client. As a result, the city agreed to stop collecting a $30 booking fee and a $50 bond fee that were preventing the release of poor defendants.

While using donations to pay bail, Ms. Epps and her co-director, Eva Frickle, also advocate legislative reforms, like a bill signed into law by the governor of Colorado last year eliminating bail for petty crimes.

“Our mission is to work ourselves out of existence,” Ms. Epps said. “We are unapologetically working through an abolitionist lens.”

Before the legislation passed, the Colorado Freedom Fund typically paid bail only up to $500. With minor offenses exempted and the recent influx of donations, Ms. Epps and Ms. Frickle are now able to handle cases with much higher amounts.

The fund receives requests from defendants and their lawyers, as well as referrals from family and friends. They prioritize defendants who have been held longer; one of the men in Boulder had been incarcerated since June 2019. Ms. Epps noted that $50,000 for someone whose court date is in December may be a better use of funds than 50 $1,000 bonds for people with trials in a week.

Above all, the group puts those “most harmed by the system first in line for release from it,” Ms. Epps said. “We prioritize the most vulnerable.”

One of those vulnerable people is M.J. Coleman. In 2018, she called the police for help leaving a hostile living situation. She did not know there was an outstanding warrant for her arrest, related to an incident when she’d hit a tree with her car. She was put behind bars, with bail set at an unaffordable $500.

Legal experts say that people who cannot afford to pay bail disproportionately take plea deals instead of fighting their cases. Ms. Coleman’s court date was months later. “I would have lost my job, my livelihood, had I had to sit in jail like that,” Ms. Coleman said in an interview.

As a transgender woman, she was kept in an isolation cell, wearing an orange jumpsuit, while other detainees mingled in a holding area wearing their own clothes. “It’s dangerous for them in general pop and dangerous in solitary,” Ms. Epps said. “It’s torture on top of the trauma of the cage.”

By coincidence, Ms. Coleman had met Ms. Epps once before, in the reception area of another jail, where both were waiting to bail people out. Ms. Epps ended up bailing out Ms. Coleman’s friend, and she was ready to help again when Ms. Coleman was arrested.

Free from jail and able to work, Ms. Coleman contested the charge, waited for her day in court, and ultimately settled for the price of a new tree.

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Amazon Workers Urge Bezos to Match His Words on Race With Actions

SEATTLE — Last week, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, wrote a rare note to all of the company’s employees. His leadership team had been reflecting on the “systemic racism” facing black communities, he said, and he urged employees to take time to learn and reflect on Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States.

“I’m canceling all my meetings on Friday, and I encourage you to do the same if you can,” he said.

But some of Amazon’s employees said there was one big problem with his suggestion: For the vast majority of Amazon’s black workers, canceling a meeting is not an option. They work in Amazon’s fulfillment operations, packing, shipping and delivering products to millions of customers.

Several other retailers, like Target, J.C. Penney and Nike, made Juneteenth a paid holiday. At Amazon, many warehouses recognized the day by encouraging workers to dress in black.

“What does a black shirt do for anybody in terms of social justice?” said Adrienne Williams, a black contract driver for Amazon in the Bay Area, who organized a vigil for Juneteenth. Better pay, she said, would do far more. “That would cut down the pre-existing condition that is poverty,” she said.

Ms. Williams and more employees and contractors are arguing that Amazon, one of the nation’s largest employers, needs to do much more to address racial inequality within its own walls. The calls for change — including diversifying its top ranks and addressing racism in its warehouses — have generated an unusual degree of turmoil inside the tech giant.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Many other large businesses also face calls for change from within. But Amazon stands out because it has a large percentage of black employees — more than a quarter of its 500,000-person domestic work force, most of them in hourly jobs at its sprawling logistics operations, where they earn far less than their corporate counterparts. That percentage is slightly higher than among Walmart’s employees in the United States, and far higher than at other big tech companies. At Facebook, for example, less than 4 percent of its work force is black.

And few executives have been as blunt in their public support of the Black Lives Matter movement as Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest person. On Instagram, Mr. Bezos posted disturbing messages he had received in response to his support of racial equality, including an email from a person named Dave, who used racist slurs and said that he would no longer do business with Amazon.

“Dave,” Mr. Bezos wrote, “you’re the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”

Johnnie Corina III, who last week filed a discrimination complaint accusing Amazon of fostering a hostile work environment for black warehouse employees, said it was hard to consider those statements as more than lip service.

“The ‘in’ thing right now is Black Lives Matter and equal justice,” Mr. Corina said. “You can tell when something is genuine and something is not.”

An Amazon spokeswoman, Jaci Anderson, said that the company stood in solidarity with the black community, and that it was “committed to helping build a country and a world where everyone can live with dignity and free from fear.” She said employees had been free to take vacation or accrued unpaid time off to attend Juneteenth events. “We respect and encourage their choice to do so,” she said.

This month, the company said it would temporarily stop selling its facial recognition software, which researchers have found to misidentify people of color, to police departments. The one-year moratorium was striking because Amazon had long denied problems and resisted calls to slow its deployment.

But Amazon’s critics, including some employees, say even that was a half-step — pointing out that the company did not directly acknowledge concerns about the technology nor did it stop selling the tools to federal law enforcement offices.

The pause is a “great start,” one employee wrote on an internal website. But the goal, the person wrote, should be broader, to ensure the products Amazon builds “are not directly at odds with promoting inclusion and diversity and perpetuating biases and injustices to black and brown communities.”


Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Employees and some shareholders have long groused about the lack of diversity on Mr. Bezos’s senior leadership team, a group known as the “S-Team” that has 22 executives, none of whom are black.

At a town hall in 2017, after Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Sandra Bland had already become household names, an employee asked Mr. Bezos about the lack of diversity on his team. Mr. Bezos said his top deputies had been by his side for years, and he saw the low turnover as an asset. Any transition on the team, he said, would “happen very incrementally over a long period of time.”

In April, before George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, a group of midlevel employees wrote to Mr. Bezos and his senior team, saying there was “a systemic pattern of racial bias that permeates Amazon,” according to emails viewed by The New York Times. They said they were prompted to write after a leak of meeting notes showed that David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, had called a black warehouse employee in Staten Island “not smart or articulate.”

Mr. Zapolsky had said his comments were “personal and emotional” and that he did not know the employee was black. But in their email, the corporate employees said it “was not an isolated incident, but rather a symptom of a bigger problem.”

They said Amazon adopted the entrenched racism that plagued America, evidenced by the “homogeneity” of the its leadership compared with “the rich racial and ethic diversity amongst our hourly worker population.”

The group proposed almost a dozen specific changes, including conducting a third-party audit of bias, releasing detailed figures on race and promotions, establishing goals for representation in management and leadership roles, and having the head of diversity be a member of Mr. Bezos’s S-Team.

Amazon said that senior leaders offered resources to help the group develop their suggestions into a formal proposal.

On Tuesday, Microsoft, one of Amazon’s top competitors for tech talent, said it would spend $150 million on diversity efforts and planned to double the number of black managers and senior employees by 2025.

Mr. Bezos’ leadership team in recent weeks has been holding “listening circles” with black employees, and many Amazon executives have written personal emails to their departments. Some teams have moved away from biased technical terms, ditching phrases like “black lists” and “white lists” to connote network access, according to an email shared among some employees.


Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But many employees want more to be done. They have been collaborating on a document to propose that Amazon make diversity a new “leadership principle,” the guiding list of attributes Amazon uses to hire, review and promote workers.

In the document, dozens of employees anonymously cited experiences of discrimination in daily work interactions. When a black employee “said something honest, he was told, ‘You’re not earning trust,’” one wrote. “But when a White Stanford M.B.A. said the exact same thing, he got an accolade.” Others wrote about being passed over for promotions, or not being mentored.

Ms. Anderson said that the anecdotes “do not reflect our values.” The company does not tolerate workplace discrimination, she said, and it investigates all claims reported through official channels. She added that the current leadership principles encouraged diversity because they “remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and constantly earn others’ trust.”

In the warehouses where Ms. Williams and the bulk of Amazon’s black employees work, the concerns of some workers can be even more explicit. Mr. Corina, in his discrimination complaint filed in California, said Amazon repeatedly failed to adequately respond to racist graffiti in bathrooms of the warehouse where he works east of Los Angeles.

Mr. Corina, who is involved with the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that since November he had repeatedly reported racist graffiti and that the language worsened after Mr. Floyd’s death. Some used racial epithets to express hatred toward black people and said that they should “go back to Africa.”

He said Amazon had not addressed the warehouses’ employees to say such behavior was unacceptable, nor had he seen any evidence that Amazon has investigated who wrote the racist graffiti, even though he had asked.

The result, he said, left him scared to go to work. “To not do any interventions is really not a safe environment for a black person,” he said.

In another complaint filed last week with California’s fair employment agency, a black janitorial contractor at the same warehouse said he was fired in early June because Amazon thought he had taken a photo of new racist graffiti that a colleague posted on Twitter.

The contractor, Donald Archie II, said that Amazon had not tried to uncover who wrote the racist words.

“They are firing a black guy because of their perception that he was responsible for calling out racism in their facility,” said Dennis Moss of Moss Bollinger, the lawyer representing Mr. Corina and Mr. Archie.

Amazon said it told warehouse employees about “unacceptable graffiti” in December, and then discussed it again in February. The company said it started to investigate the markings in June. Mr. Archie was removed from Amazon buildings for not escalating concerns about the graffiti and violating the company’s cellphone use policy, the company said.

On June 16, a colleague sent Mr. Archie a photo from the bathroom, with racist phrases once again scrawled on the wall. Below it was an internal newsletter that quoted Amazon’s public statement from May 31, reading, “The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop.”

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Social Media Giants Support Racial Justice. Their Products Undermine It.

Several weeks ago, as protests erupted across the nation in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a long and heartfelt post on his Facebook page, denouncing racial bias and proclaiming that “black lives matter.” Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, also announced that the company would donate $10 million to racial justice organizations.

A similar show of support unfolded at Twitter, where the company changed its official Twitter bio to a Black Lives Matter tribute, and Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, pledged $3 million to an anti-racism organization started by Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback.

YouTube joined the protests, too. Susan Wojcicki, its chief executive, wrote in a blog post that “we believe Black lives matter and we all need to do more to dismantle systemic racism.” YouTube also announced it would start a $100 million fund for black creators.

Pretty good for a bunch of supposedly heartless tech executives, right?

Well, sort of. The problem is that, while these shows of support were well intentioned, they didn’t address the way that these companies’ own products — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — have been successfully weaponized by racists and partisan provocateurs, and are being used to undermine Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. It’s as if the heads of McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell all got together to fight obesity by donating to a vegan food co-op, rather than by lowering their calorie counts.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but social media once functioned as a tool for the oppressed and marginalized. In Tahrir Square in Cairo, Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, activists used Twitter and Facebook to organize demonstrations and get their messages out.

But in recent years, a right-wing reactionary movement has turned the tide. Now, some of the loudest and most established voices on these platforms belong to conservative commentators and paid provocateurs whose aim is mocking and subverting social justice movements, rather than supporting them.

The result is a distorted view of the world that is at odds with actual public sentiment. A majority of Americans support Black Lives Matter, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by scrolling through your social media feeds.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

On Facebook, for example, the most popular post on the day of Mr. Zuckerberg’s Black Lives Matter pronouncement was an 18-minute video posted by the right-wing activist Candace Owens. In the video, Ms. Owens, who is black, railed against the protests, calling the idea of racially biased policing a “fake narrative” and deriding Mr. Floyd as a “horrible human being.” Her monologue, which was shared by right-wing media outlets — and which several people told me they had seen because Facebook’s algorithm recommended it to them — racked up nearly 100 million views.

Ms. Owens is a serial offender, known for spreading misinformation and stirring up partisan rancor. (Her Twitter account was suspended this year after she encouraged her followers to violate stay-at-home orders, and Facebook has applied fact-checking labels to several of her posts.) But she can still insult the victims of police killings with impunity to her nearly four million followers on Facebook. So can other high-profile conservative commentators like Terrence K. Williams, Ben Shapiro and the Hodgetwins, all of whom have had anti-Black Lives Matter posts go viral over the past several weeks.

In all, seven of the 10 most-shared Facebook posts containing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” over the past month were critical of the movement, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data platform. (The sentiment on Instagram, which Facebook owns, has been more favorable, perhaps because its users skew younger and more liberal.)

Facebook declined to comment. On Thursday, it announced it would spend $200 million to support black-owned businesses and organizations, and add a “Lift Black Voices” section to its app to highlight stories from black people and share educational resources.

Twitter has been a supporter of Black Lives Matter for years — remember Mr. Dorsey’s trip to Ferguson? — but it, too, has a problem with racists and bigots using its platform to stir up unrest. Last month, the company discovered that a Twitter account claiming to represent a national antifa group was run by a group of white nationalists posing as left-wing radicals. (The account was suspended, but not before its tweets calling for violence were widely shared.) Twitter’s trending topics sidebar, which is often gamed by trolls looking to hijack online conversations, has filled up with inflammatory hashtags like #whitelivesmatter and #whiteoutwednesday, often as a result of coordinated campaigns by far-right extremists.

A Twitter spokesman, Brandon Borrman, said: “We’ve taken down hundreds of groups under our violent extremist group policy and continue to enforce our policies against hateful conduct every day across the world. From #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls, our company is motivated by the power of social movements to usher in meaningful societal change.”

YouTube, too, has struggled to square its corporate values with the way its products actually operate. The company has made strides in recent years to remove conspiracy theories and misinformation from its search results and recommendations, but it has yet to grapple fully with the way its boundary-pushing culture and laissez-faire policies contributed to racial division for years.


Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

As of this week, for example, the most-viewed YouTube video about Black Lives Matter wasn’t footage of a protest or a police killing, but a four-year-old “social experiment” by the viral prankster and former Republican congressional candidate Joey Saladino, which has 14 million views. In the video, Mr. Saladino — whose other YouTube stunts have included drinking his own urine and wearing a Nazi costume to a Trump rally — holds up an “All Lives Matter” sign in a predominantly black neighborhood.

A YouTube spokeswoman, Andrea Faville, said that Mr. Saladino’s video had received fewer than 5 percent of its views this year, and that it was not being widely recommended by the company’s algorithms. Mr. Saladino recently reposted the video to Facebook, where it has gotten several million more views.

In some ways, social media has helped Black Lives Matter simply by making it possible for victims of police violence to be heard. Without Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we might never have seen the video of Mr. Floyd’s killing, or known the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or other victims of police brutality. Many of the protests being held around the country are being organized in Facebook groups and Twitter threads, and social media has been helpful in creating more accountability for the police.

But these platforms aren’t just megaphones. They’re also global, real-time contests for attention, and many of the experienced players have gotten good at provoking controversy by adopting exaggerated views. They understand that if the whole world is condemning Mr. Floyd’s killing, a post saying he deserved it will stand out. If the data suggests that black people are disproportionately targeted by police violence, they know that there’s likely a market for a video saying that white people are the real victims.

The point isn’t that platforms should bar people like Mr. Saladino and Ms. Owens for criticizing Black Lives Matter. But in this moment of racial reckoning, these executives owe it to their employees, their users and society at large to examine the structural forces that are empowering racists on the internet, and which features of their platforms are undermining the social justice movements they claim to support.

They don’t seem eager to do so. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that an internal Facebook study in 2016 found that 64 percent of the people who joined extremist groups on the platform did so because Facebook’s recommendations algorithms steered them there. Facebook could have responded to those findings by shutting off groups recommendations entirely, or pausing them until it could be certain the problem had been fixed. Instead, it buried the study and kept going.

As a result, Facebook groups continue to be useful for violent extremists. This week, two members of the far-right “boogaloo” movement, which wants to destabilize society and provoke a civil war, were charged in connection with the killing of a federal officer at a protest in Oakland, Calif. According to investigators, the suspects met and discussed their plans in a Facebook group. And although Facebook has said it would exclude boogaloo groups from recommendations, they’re still appearing in plenty of people’s feeds.


Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a civil rights group that advises tech companies on racial justice issues, told me in an interview this week that tech leaders needed to apply anti-racist principles to their own product designs, rather than simply expressing their support for Black Lives Matter.

“What I see, particularly from Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s kind of like ‘thoughts and prayers’ after something tragic happens with guns,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s a lot of sympathy without having to do anything structural about it.”

There is plenty more Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Wojcicki could do. They could build teams of civil rights experts and empower them to root out racism on their platforms, including more subtle forms of racism that don’t involve using racial slurs or organized hate groups. They could dismantle the recommendations systems that give provocateurs and cranks free attention, or make changes to the way their platforms rank information. (Ranking it by how engaging it is, the way some platforms still do, tends to amplify misinformation and outrage-bait.) They could institute a “viral ceiling” on posts about sensitive topics, to make it harder for trolls to hijack the conversation.

I’m optimistic that some of these tech leaders will eventually be convinced — either by their employees of color or their own conscience — that truly supporting racial justice means that they need to build anti-racist products and services, and do the hard work of making sure their platforms are amplifying the right voices. But I’m worried that they will stop short of making real, structural changes, out of fear of being accused of partisan bias.

So is Mr. Robinson, the civil rights organizer. A few weeks ago, he chatted with Mr. Zuckerberg by phone about Facebook’s policies on race, elections and other topics. Afterward, he said he thought that while Mr. Zuckerberg and other tech leaders generally meant well, he didn’t think they truly understood how harmful their products could be.

“I don’t think they can truly mean ‘Black Lives Matter’ when they have systems that put black people at risk,” he said.

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