Civil rights attorney and candidate for Texas attorney general Lee Merritt is asking his hundreds of thousands of followers on social media to help finance social justice advocate and journalist Shaun King‘s relocation from his home in New Jersey after a conservative tabloid exposed its location last week.
On Thursday, Merritt posted a photo on Instagram of himself with King and his wife and wrote that his “good friends” are “being forced to move from their home after national media publications printed their home address claiming they lived in a house too lavish for their incomes.”
Merritt added later that the Kings would be forced to sell their home at a loss and would need assistance for the “expensive proposition” of moving on such a whim.
“I’m asking you to send them your support today,” Merritt continued. “These two are literally married to the movement and will stop what they are doing at any given moment to serve the needs of others. They are in need of our help today. Let’s show up for them.”
Merritt then provided four choices for making electronic money transfers to King and his family, saying, “Here’s how to give.”
At face value, the benevolent gesture was similar to the innocent online crowdfunding efforts provided by websites like GoFundMe to raise money for good causes.
However, beneath the surface of such a request lies unresolved monetary grievances against King by former affiliates that typically get resurrected anytime he’s back in the news, regardless of the reasons why.
The New York Post published photos of King’s home on Saturday and described it as being situated on a “lakefront” where the family “lives lavishly.” The article went on to bring attention to some of the aforementioned grievances in a purported effort to question how King, 41, and his wife could afford a home that reportedly sold for $842,000 in a state with notoriously high property taxes.
King, who notably served as an adviser on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, told his nearly 4 million Instagram followers on Sunday from his private account that the reports about his home “mean to get me killed.” He said he had to hire security for his home and now forbids his children from playing outside.
His wife, Rai, responded in part by saying that she paid for the home with the only help coming in the form of “hard work, determination, education, and gainful employment.” King said they financed the home with an “HFA loan,” a federal mortgage that offers homebuying opportunities with low payments and closing costs and makes it easier to qualify for credit.
She added sarcastically, “We must be frauds!”
But that’s exactly what King’s critics think, and have thought for years now.
Chief among those voices bringing attention to the combination of King and fundraising is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was gunned down and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014 within seconds of being seen.
Samaria Rice, as sympathetic and genuine of a person as there ever was, recently called out King for “chasing clout” because he published the contents of what she said was an off-the-record conversation. She called King “a white man acting black” and revived criticism of his fundraising practices that first came under fire when a 2015 Washington Post article couldn’t account for $60,000 in missing online donations he solicited.
“Personally I don’t understand how you sleep at night,” Samaria Rice said in June. “I never gave you permission to raise nothing.”
To be sure, beyond the issues that arise every time King and fundraising are mentioned in the same sentence, there needs to be space for a conversation about reconciling the difference between being compensated for one’s labor and platform and when that line is crossed into personally profiting off justice work.
It’s impossible to ignore the demonization movement leaders decades ago faced by conservatives in efforts to discredit them under disingenuous pretenses. King, in his Instagram post on Sunday, drew the same parallels in 2021, suggesting he, too, was a political target.
The same thing recently happened to Black Lives Matter Global Network co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who faced backlash following — yep, you guessed it — the New York Post reporting on her real estate ventures and suggesting they were funded by donations intended for the movement.
“I have never taken a salary from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation,” Cullors told Marc Lamont Hill during an interview on the Black News Channel in April. “That’s important because the right-wing media is trying to say donations for BLM went toward my spending. That is categorically untrue and incredibly dangerous.”
Addressing the implication that activism shouldn’t be rewarded financially, Cullors added later: “Organizers should get paid for the work that they do. They should get paid a living wage.”
The following month, Cullors stepped down as executive director of Black Lives Matter Global Network amid heightened scrutiny over the organization’s finances.