In response to our country’s systemic failures and the inaction of Brooklyn Boulders leadership we, BKB staff, penned an open letter holding our executive team accountable and calling for organizational reform.
In order to truly stand up for Black lives, BKB must pledge our support for more than just minor police reform. It is imperative that Brooklyn Boulders speak out against the history of brutality and racism within law enforcement. Additionally, Brooklyn Boulders leadership must identify and address their own shortcomings; recognizing the areas in which they have failed to make good on their promise to provide an inclusive, respectful, and diverse community.
Read the full letter and—if you feel so moved—join us in demanding change by adding your name to the list.
We, a group of Brooklyn Boulders employees, come to you with this letter in response to BKB’s actions following the rise in visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others. To begin, we acknowledge that BKB has taken some commendable actions thus far; donating to the Equal Justice Initiative, verbally committing to a diversity council and training, pledging to listen and learn, and more. Most recently, BKB has posted on Instagram in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We want to highlight that, while powerful, this statement is meaningless unless BKB takes the essential next steps— addressing systemic racism within the climbing community, the cities where BKB is located (Somerville, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Denver), and our country as a whole.
We are BKB employees—both white and people of color—and we are calling for you, our executive team, to take further action. We care deeply for BKB and the community we have found here, and demand better from the company and its leadership; BKB cannot live up to its proclaimed values of diversity, community, relentlessness, etc. until further action is taken. BKB has long described itself as a place committed to diversity; it is at the core of our mission statement. Throughout the years, we have taken steps that align with this commitment, including supporting meetup groups for adaptive climbers, women, and LGBTQ people. Holding Brooklyn Boulders accountable to these espoused values and principles is the deepest sign of respect and love we can offer. We appreciate Brooklyn Boulders and don’t want to see our community torn apart by a lack of integrity and an inability to learn from our mistakes.
BKB has backed down from making a public statement regarding defunding the police in order to fund other public services because that action is too “political." This refusal to engage on a topic that is fundamentally about human rights (the ability for Black people to live without fear of police brutality in their everyday lives) shows a desire to only act in ways that are safe and beneficial to the company. By not actively denouncing these systems of oppression, BKB is complicit. Almost every minority group in the United States has—at some point in history—had their bodies politicized to the point of dehumanization and their right to live made a partisan issue. It is impossible to truly stand up for Black lives without questioning the legislative and cultural systems that perpetuate systemic racism. In the remainder of this letter we will describe why this work is essential and provide a concrete list of steps that we ask BKB take.
Our communities are in danger
Although many of our local politicians have stood by the Black Lives Matter movement, Boston has by no means been immune to police brutality—both now and throughout its history. The story of Terrence Coleman, a Black man with schizophrenia shot by the Boston Police, highlights how the BPD and other police organizations often view Black people with disabilities as a threat rather than what they are: a human in need. They lack the proper training to recognize the symptoms of common disabilities like Bipolar Disorder or deafness, resorting to violence instead of compassion. We must dismantle the idea that fear or ignorance justifies violence; these deaths are not an unavoidable casualty of crime response.
Additionally, although Black people make up only 24% of Boston’s population, they make up 65% of Boston’s stop-and-frisk incidents (data from 2018), a procedure that remains in practice despite research showing that it is ineffective, serving only to build distrust between communities and the police. Compounding this is Boston’s school-to-prison pipeline problem. Black students in Boston are 4x more likely than their white peers to be suspended; students who are suspended are 2x more likely to drop out, and students who drop out are 8x as likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
Nationally, officers have responded to misdemeanors and minor nonviolent crimes—such as selling loose cigarettes, having a broken taillight or, allegedly, using a counterfeit bill—with violence that culminated in murder. In the city of our original gym, New York, these issues persist, as well. The NYPD took 5 years to fire Eric Garner’s killer and have yet to press charges. Within the last two weeks alone, the same organization has committed multiple acts of unprovoked violence against peaceful protesters.
These are just a few examples of the innumerable instances of racial bias in the police that result in violence against the communities they have sworn to protect—communities that BKB is a part of—many of which go unreported.
BKB’s response thus far
Senior Director of Culture and People Development Allison Wolfe-Glussi's recent email to BKB employees highlights the continued commitment to supporting diversity and anti-racism education. This promise falls flat, however, when we don’t build on this commitment by taking additional steps to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism on a larger scale, acknowledging our (BKB’s) fallibility. Countless companies and institutions have employed diversity training, but history has shown us time and time again that this—as a singular initiative—merely addresses the symptoms while (intentionally or unintentionally) leaving the core issues untouched. True allyship means standing up for what is right, when it is controversial or might cause repercussions. It requires hard work, introspection, and a willingness to break from the status quo—even when the status quo is something we actively benefit from. While donating and diversity training are essential first steps, Brooklyn Boulders—as a national leader in the climbing industry—has a duty to commit more than just money to this fight. Since its inception, BKB has challenged the norms of the climbing industry and cultivated a following that will look to us for leadership and support.
In BKB President Lance Pinn’s email concerning the Somerville petition to fund public services before police, he verbalized support for Mayor Curtatone’s actions to demilitarize the police, create civilian oversight structures, require body cameras, and designate a prosecutor to hold criminal police officers accountable—strong first steps towards reducing police brutality. However, he also said he didn’t want to engage in a “public political debate,” didn’t feel qualified to comment on how Somerville allocates their budget, and that Mayor Curtatone is “on it.” We understand feeling as though decisions on certain topics are beyond your scope of influence and that engaging with divisive issues takes strength and vulnerability. That said, the BKB community is made up of residents and taxpayers and, as such, we believe that both BKB and its employees are qualified to speak to the distribution of our city’s budget. As a large business, our voice is influential. Not taking advantage of our influence during a pivotal time in our nation’s history would betray our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Moreover, while we agree that Mayor Curtatone has taken promising first steps in Somerville, the other BKB cities of Boston, NYC, and Chicago lag behind. Saying that it isn’t our job to get involved dismisses and perpetuates the injustices in our communities and across the country.
What next, BKB?
First and foremost, Brooklyn Boulders has a responsibility to live up to its promise to 'listen' to voices both within and without our community. With that in mind, it is imperative that BKB take a stand against the systems that perpetuate police brutality and systemic racism, and address and acknowledge the mistakes that have been made in the past.
This response must be multifaceted; we ask that BKB:
- Speak out against the problems within its home cities, through social media and other public statements.
- Speak out against the actions of local police departments and demand the cessation of over-policing, stop-and-frisk, “qualified immunity,” and other systems that protect criminal police officers who use excessive force, from consequences.
- Advocate for increased funding to public schools. By supporting students with unique needs—such as trauma, poverty, and racism—cities can work towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. As a company committed to empowering and uplifting youth through programming, this is an issue that BKB should take an especially strong stance on.
- Publicly stand by Mayor Curtatone’s decision to look to Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 10-point plan for guidance, and encourage other cities to do the same.
- Lead by example by combating these issues alongside local officials and affecting change. An easy first step is to advocate for the distribution of police funding to other sources that uplift communities, reducing crime and the likelihood of violent police reprisal. Only then can we hope to heal our communities and begin to re-earn their trust.
In order to truly stand up for Black lives, BKB must pledge their support for more than just minor police reform. We must speak out against the history of brutality and racism within law enforcement, advocate for the demilitarization and defunding of the police, and demand those funds be distributed to resources that better support our communities. The BKB executive team must acknowledge and apologize for their mistakes, including the recent Instagram post, the lack of response (internal or otherwise) to their community, and other instances that have been—or will be—brought to their attention. They must also actively listen and respond to concerns raised by people of color. This can be achieved through social media, messages to the BKB community and BKB employees, statements and testimony issued to local officials in support of these policies, as well as programs and initiatives within BKB and its affiliates. Without these actions, BKB’s promise to uphold diversity and anti-racism is broken. We have a chance to be a leader in the climbing community at this time. We are excited to see what we, as an organization, can do to promote lasting change, and look forward to continuing this conversation with you.