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GoFundMe to Refund $31K Donations to Richmond Police Reform Org

a screenshot of the go fund me page before it was taken down
An archived version of the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project's GoFundMe page from Aug. 26, 2020. (Source: Way Back Machine)

After a rift between some of its members, the fundraising website GoFundMe says it is refunding more than $31,000 in donations made to the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project.

The fundraiser was originally organized by RTAP members Nathan Land and Carlton Webb shortly after protests and civil unrest broke out in Richmond in late May. It was meant to help fund recurring expenses for the organization and community outreach efforts. Land was voted out of the organization in July after what he described as a disagreement over “the validity of police data that was analyzed by a white sociologist...without proper input and equal power from Black Richmonders and experts in the field.” Webb said he was also voted out, although remaining members of RTAP dispute that.

As of Tuesday, the fundraiser webpage was no longer active.

“I can confirm our Trust & Safety team is currently working with the campaign organizer, and that all donations will be refunded,” Melanie Yost, regional communications for GoFundMe, told VPM.

Before the page was taken down, both Land and RTAP said they wanted the donations refunded. Land said he did not have access to the money and none had been given to RTAP or the family of Marcus-David Peters.

RTAP was founded in 2017 to document and lift up community complaints about policing in Richmond. To that end, the group exerted pressure on RPD in 2017 and 2018 to release data on use of force, civilian complaints and pedestrian and traffic stops. 

The stops data released in July 2019 showed  disproportionate contact between Black Richmonders and the police. Despite making up only 48 percent of the city population, Black people made up 65 percent of all police contacts. 

But following the racial justice movement that erupted across the country this summer, a rift developed between some core RTAP members. Michael Paul Williams at the Richmond Times-Dispatched described it as  an “implosion.”

Emails provided to VPM show that a virtual, 24-hour vote on removing some core members was called on July 21. Land, who is white, and another Black member were voted out. RTAP members Sarah Ochs and Stephanie Rizzi, speaking on behalf of the group, said they were voted out for “violating our membership agreements.” Land denies that. RTAP said Webb chose to leave the organization voluntarily, but Webb insists he was also voted out. 

Land said he feels there was little due process with how things were handled. 

“There was never transparency around who voted for you, who didn't get their vote submitted by the 24-hour email deadline, and what this vote would mean considering no mediation or conversations were held in front of the group,” he said. 

With a Medium post on August 9, both Land and Webb announced that they were “reclaiming” the organization for Black Richmonders and moving away from “white-led non-profit organizations” and white academics. 

“White folks who knew how to do administrative tasks and facilitate felt inclined to fill up leadership spots quickly,” the post read. “These white folks in power positions then attempted to tokenize Black folks assigned to RTAP by white-led nonprofit organizations, to make it seem like regressive stances were backed by Black voices.”

RTAP has dismissed the characterization of it being a white-led organization, saying most of its core members are not white and that RTAP has “always centered the voices and experiences of Black Richmonders.” 

Webb, who was a long-time member of RTAP focused on community outreach, said he believed it was necessary to voice his opposition to what he saw as RTAP moving away from its core mission of empowering the community amid a national spotlight on policing.

“When the whole rebellion and protests took place, [RTAP] immediately started grabbing the spotlight to talk to politicians,” Webb said. “No mention of the community was ever named.”

In addition to taking a politician-focused approach, Webb said he felt the organization began pushing its own reforms, like creating a civilian review board for police misconduct, rather than empowering Black community members to make their demands.

“This is a classic case of how movements get co-opted and how so-called well-meaning white people think that they can chaperone the Black community,” he said. “There’s no reason why these people [living in over-policed communities] cannot speak on their own behalf.”

The split was both a literal and figurative struggle over who could speak for RTAP, with Land and Webb having the login credentials for the organizations Twitter and Instagram handles as well as its RPD abuse hotline. RTAP says it still does not have access to the hotline or its ProtonMail and Mailchimp accounts and is working to get them back.

With the $31,000 in donations expected to be returned, both RTAP and the now-former members who organized the campaign appear to be moving on. 

In response to the criticism it faced this summer, members of RTAP say the organization is working to clarify its organizational structure and create new bylaws in line with its mission.

"We will continue uplifting the voices of our most over-policed communities and work toward changes that reduce the harms that are inflicted upon them by the police," the group said.

Webb said he has shifted his efforts to helping recently formed protest groups connect with Richmond’s Black residents, particularly in the public housing communities. 

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