On May 30, BlackRock chief executive officer Larry Fink wrote a letter to his colleagues, writing that he was “appalled” by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
“Many of us are struggling with these events,” Fink wrote in the letter. “For our employees suffering pain from these tragedies, I want you to know that the firm’s leadership stands with you, and we are listening.”
Less than two weeks after Fink shared this letter on LinkedIn, Color of Change, a nonprofit racial justice organization, is calling on him to stop supporting the New York City Police Foundation.
The New York City Police Foundation provides financial support to the New York Police Department, paying for training, equipment, and rewards for anonymous tips that lead to arrests and indictments of violent felons. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Fink was a co-chair for the foundation’s annual gala, its website shows.
“It's not enough for a CEO to say Black Lives Matter,” said Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, deputy senior campaign director at Color of Change. “These leaders have to stop enabling organizations that harm Black people.”
Calls to defund police departments and reform policing practices have increased exponentially in recent weeks, and a number of institutions have publicly shared support for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, asset managers have a complex relationship with police departments, as many police pension funds invest with these firms. The New York City Police Pension Fund’s comprehensive annual financial report from 2019 shows that the fund was invested in eight separate BlackRock funds at the time.
Fink is not the industry’s lone supporter of the New York City Police Foundation. In 2019, for example, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Brookfield, and Bank of America were among the event’s co-chairs listed on its website.
In past years, the Paul E. Singer Foundation, the Margaret & Daniel Loeb – Third Point Foundation, and private equity mogul Thomas H. Lee were among the event’s co-chairs.
It’s unclear from the foundation’s website what being a co-chair of the event entails, and a spokesperson for the New York City Police Foundation did not immediately return an email seeking comment. However, buying a table at the event costs upwards of $15,000, per the foundation’s website.
Fink has made some donations to the Widows’ and Children’s Fund, which is run by a separate organization, the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, a labor union for the city’s police department, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person added that Fink has also donated hotel rooms for police officers working as first responders during the Covid-19 crisis, who had to stay out of their homes to avoid infecting their families.
According to a spokesperson for BlackRock, the firm is taking action following the publication of Fink’s letter.
BlackRock is offering a two-for-one match to employees who want to donate to organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, The Bail Project, Equal Justice Initiative, and Center for Policing Equity. The spokesperson said via email that the group raised $400,000 in the first 48 hours.
The spokesperson also said that BlackRock signed on to support Georgia hate crime legislation, which would enhance penalties for those types of crimes.
According to Ogunnaike, Fink’s voice stands out in asset management, which is why Color of Change has launched a campaign specifically dedicated to Fink.
“He's a pace-setter in the financial world,” Ogunnaike said by phone. “His letter that comes out every year informs so many financial institutions. BlackRock is a massively important organization.”
“Lending your name as a co-chair, it’s a symbol that you’re enabling your support of the foundation,” Ogunnaike said, arguing that even if Fink donated just $1,000 per year to the foundation, his decision to support it would be a problem, given the way the New York Police Department has handled recent protests in the city.
According to Ogunnaike, Color of Change reached out to BlackRock after Fink published his letter, with the goal of having a private conversation about it.
“They totally went dark on us,” she said. “It showed that they were not interested in having a conversation and were just continuing on with business as usual.”
So the group launched a public petition, which, according to Ogunnaike, has been signed by 20,000 people since its publication.
A spokesperson for BlackRock declined to comment specifically on the campaign.