GoFundMe Denies Defense Funding to Baltimore Police Officers

This article isn’t weighing in on the most recent round of protests and rioting happening now in Baltimore. This article’s focus is on the social crowdfunding website GoFundMe’s recent decision to defund advocates collecting money for the defense of the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, the act which precipitated the Baltimore riots.

A group of Baltimore police started a GoFundMe fundraising page to help to defray legal costs for the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Seeing the overwhelming support media for their opposition, and several similar campaigns towards their prosecution, the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police created a “Support Our Officers” campaign to service the many, many people pledging to help defend the six officers in their upcoming legal battles. The FOP explained what their page was intended to be used for.

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #3 has been overwhelmed with the enormous generosity of people from around the world. We have received many requests to open an online account that will accept monetary donations for the 6 officers who have been wrongly charged in the death of Freddie Gray. All monies collected will be used to assist our officers with their living expenses during their unpaid suspension. as well as to help defray their legal expenses. We thank you, in advance, for your continued support.

A problem arose when, 40 minutes later, the crowdfunding website pulled the campaign “without explanation” according to a tweet by the FOP. GoFundMe claimed their campaign was in violation of its terms of use. Where this continues to run into murky waters is in the other recent cases of GoFundMe campaigns apparently brought down without justifiable evidence of wrongdoing, but, to be more to the point, on the wrong or unfashionable side of the current conversation.

There was recently a change to the crowdsourcing websites terms of service, with the implied intention to prevent those on on the wrong side of the law from fund raising capabilities. The timing of this change, however, coincided with several Christian companies raising large sums to help combat their own legal costs forced upon them by state-sponsored court cases aimed at denying their businesses’ right of refusal and religious expression.

Kelsey Harkness of The Daily Signal reported the changed terms and conditions. She wrote:

Instead of prohibiting “campaigns in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts”—as it used to—GoFundMe now bans “campaigns in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts.”

The difference in the wording of the policy is significant because neither the Christian bakers—Aaron and Melissa Klein—nor the Washington florist [70-year-old Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers] who also had her account shut down broke any criminal laws.

While I am all for fraud prevention, and am not personally against many of movements towards LGBT equality and other issues, when many of these claims of heinous crimes come in the form of false claims against the company following no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever, I have to take pause. One such case was the “just in case” reporting of one such business’ GoFundMe of fraud, just in case, by a CBS employee (recently fired), web and social media team member Alix Bryan back at the beginning of April.

While I agree with a company’s right to deny service based on their own sense of what is right and wrong, at the very least, it is hypocritical for GoFundMe to deny it for Christians for doing the very same thing. There, no crimes were committed and now, in the case of the Baltimore police officers, the issue itself is the possible guilt or wrongdoing of the accused. When the company, however, respects when random users’ “claims of heinous crimes” are so easily, and flippantly created and where all that is required is the accusation of potential guilt is enough to end a well meaning campaign, I have to ask what business GoFundMe is putting itself in. They’ve made a name for themselves for their abilities to support charities of all kinds, including many defense fees of people who themselves, admitted to being in a trial for crimes they have been charged with. Since there are already many, many cases of GoFundMe campaigns requesting support with defense fees, which by their nature are admitting being suspect in criminal activities which GoFundMe claims are in violation of their policies, I have to ask why GoFundMe is putting themselves in the business of funding only the defense fees of individuals which are politically correct according to some, and even more perniciously, the political whims of others. As I said before, I’m not telling my readers what to believe in the matter whatever current social argument may be taking place, but I do have a problem with GoFundMe becoming meaningfully selective towards who does and does not deserve funding from their own supporters.

Frankly, as someone who has happily supported campaigns for friends doing everything from writing books, paying for new appliance to even one friend’s sexual reassignment surgery, it hurts me that subjective political or social leanings are being used to validate the repression of users who have no proven criminal activities. In fact, it shows a precedence for companies to allow the extremely inappropriate role of determining which crimes are truly criminal, and more importantly, who is the truly guilty. It’s a slap in the face of the social empowerment that crowdfunding was supposed to be about, not living under the moral thumb of big corporate companies and their stakeholders. No company, being made up of computer programmers, accountants, secretaries, and social media “badasses”, are in the position of expertise and moral authority to determining who deserves a product which is meant to be used to aid in their own defense, especially one which they offer to numerous others who have already danced the razor’s edge of what is and isn’t criminal in nature.

Once again, I don’t know if the six police officers are guilty of anything. Then again, none of us really do yet. I’m not asking you believe either way. I’m also not asking you to take a stance on the Christian First Amendment rights vs the equality of homosexuals. I just have a problem that GoFundMe is being so, perhaps unjustly, deterministic on who uses their service based on these often overlapping lines. It’s truly as if they are giving themselves over to a mob mentality and worse, because of one company’s decision, the perceived guilt already hanging over six individuals has only increased. Worse yet, the ability of them to receive defense funding is being dictated through no moral or righteous decision process, but from the roar of the streets and the decisions of some corporate culture’s own personal biases. These men and women still have at least one right remaining to them; the assumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. It is our responsibility as Americans and human beings, to extend that assumption as well, and not be allowed to dictate policy, and the lives of possibility good and innocent people, based on the violent whims of emotional rioters.

Thanks for reading!

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