To put it nicely, Shaun King’s involvement with Black liberation movements over the past half-decade been especially marred by controversy, contention and accusations.
All of that came to a head on Wednesday when it was revealed that the journalist had been emailing and threatening legal action against activists and other people he felt had put out false statements about him – even CCing prominent civil rights lawyers – India Sneed, Benjamin Crump, and Ron Sullivan – in said correspondence. King then went so far as to post the accused people’s names and tweets on his social media accounts to his millions of followers, claiming that their “false” statements had been retracted. It was unclear if the emails were anything more than an intimidation tactic since none of the lawyers King referenced had released a statement as of Thursday afternoon (not to mention that an email claiming legal recourse copied to lawyers is different from an actual lawsuit). Messages left for the lawyers were not immediately returned.
One of the people King targeted on social media was Clarissa Brooks, a Black organizer and college student in Atlanta. Brooks posted a tweet asking about King’s alleged misuse of funds raised to help Cyntoia Brown, whose life sentence in prison was commuted earlier this month. “Are folks going to hold Shaun King accountable to money he ‘raised’ for Cyntoia?” Brook’s tweet asked. “Or is that going to disappear as well?”
King claimed that he never raised money for Brown. He did, however, raise upwards of $100,000 to find the killer of seven-year-old Jazmine Barnes and delivered a subsequent tip to police that led to the arrest of two suspects. It is assumed that the money has been paid out for the tip. King also came under fire for circulating the name of a white man and linking him to Barnes’ murder with a now-deleted tweet: “We’ve had 20 people call or email us and say he is a racist, violent (expletive) and always has been. Just tell me everything you know.”
Ever since King publicized his email to Brooks on social media, dangling her name in front of his million-plus followers, she has been on the receiving end of hate messages, threats and a targeted attack from subhuman hotep Tariq Nasheed. She does not deserve that.
Furthermore, I’m not sure there is even a real pursuit of justice involved here. It seems more like old-fashioned intimidation and forcible silencing. It’s going to be pretty hard to prove that a college student acted with malice and knowingly put out a false statement that negatively impacted King’s life in any substantial way, especially at her relatively meager social media following compared to his and a tweet that was only shared a few hundred times. And if these accusations are so damning, then where are the emails and lawsuits aimed at white people who have said King is a white man and spread “false stories” about him for years? Why are black people the target of these threats? That’s not an act of uplifting or unity from a self-proclaimed activist who likens himself to Martin Luther King, Jr., as he did on Tom Joyner’s radio show on Thursday morning.
I mentioned earlier that Brooks is a college student, but I also should have said that she is one of my former students who I was lucky enough to teach last semester. She is a passionate, brilliant activist who has put her livelihood on the line on more than one occasion because of her love of Black folks. I admire her.
The backlash to King’s public attacks on Brooks and others has been swift and sweeping. Support for Clarissa quickly manifested in #IStandWithClarissa and #ISupportClarissa hashtags and prompted a wide swath of Twitter users — many of whom have had personal associations with King — to bring up past accusations of his impropriety with money he’s raised.
I’ve honestly tried to stay neutral on King as a lot of the back-and-forth in these spaces can quickly devolve into battles of masculinity under the guise of caring about who’s really doing work for a cause. But the rumblings are loud – and they have been for a while now.
Much of the murkiness surrounding his charity finances were chronicled by the Daily Beast in 2015.
“King collected millions of dollars for everyone from Haitian orphans to the families of black men and children killed by police across America,” Goldie Taylor wrote at the time. “Some of that money went to survivors or victims’ families, but much of the largess either went into failed projects, King’s own pockets, or is unaccounted for.”
The article laid out hundreds of thousands of dollars mostly raised by King that failed to reach the intended beneficiaries. Ten days later King published an article on Medium defending his stances as someone who delivers when he receives money for a cause. “I have not misappropriated, misspent, or mishandled a single penny from the Black Lives Matter movement. Period,” he wrote. “This is a complete fabrication.”
Still, the skepticism didn’t stop. A few weeks later, in January of 2016, Complex posted an article laying out the dissolution of Justice Together, and dissatisfaction with King’s leadership and role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Meanwhile, King has remained undeterred. He’s still raising money. He’s still launching new initiatives and organizations with the hopes they don’t fail like Justice Together. And he’s still facing endless scrutiny every time he posts a tweet about money he’s raising.
However, his actions Wednesday went far beyond misappropriation of funds. To threaten legal action against a young Black woman activist and sic more than one million people on someone with fewer than 6,000 followers is an act of cruelty. It’s forcefully attacking someone who could have been spoken to in private first, at the very least. It only further fans the flames of those who have always found King to be more of a harm to the Black community than good. And it’s hard not to agree with them.
King has always centered money in his activism, leaving behind failed organizations and has readily resorted to bullying people who question him publicly. He has also sometimes approached his online reporting with an Alex Jones-like regard for the truth (as the aforementioned wrongful insinuation of a white man as Barnes’ killer shows), and a near-voyeuristic approach to sharing images of black violence and death that has also been widely criticized. All of that combined with the way he treated Clarissa and those like her – threatening to put black people into the court system is literally the antithesis of freedom work – makes it incredibly hard to find any reason to consider Shaun King an ally to Black people.
Shaun King simply isn’t here for us, and it’s hard to find someone other than himself to indicate that he ever has been.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.