New ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Super PAC aims to fight police brutality with cash

The grassroots movement against police brutality just got official.

Tarik Mohamed chose the perfect name for the political action committee that he launched to fight police brutality, and this week, the Federal Election Commission approved the “I Can’t Breathe PAC”, meaning it can begin collecting and distributing funds.

Mohamed, a strategist at the advertising firm Outfront Media, told the Center for Public Integrity that the name choice was “about capturing that social inertia and giving it a political voice, not just a voice in the street, but a voice in the airwaves come election time.”

First page of FEC application

First page of FEC application

FEC

As anyone following the news knows, “I can’t breathe” were the last words of an African-American New York man named Eric Garner who was choked to death on a Staten Island sidewalk by a police officer whom a grand jury later declined to indict.

Mohamed said he wanted to raise money for current and prospective public officials who supported police reform, an issue that rose to the forefront in 2014 following the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and numerous other widely criticized incidents of police officers killing unarmed African-American men.

Studies show that African-Americans are substantially less trusting of their local police departments than their white neighbors. This trust gap has come to epitomize the issues plaguing the American criminal justice system. In the past year, President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, among other politicians, have called for changes to criminal justice procedures to improve trust between cops and communities.

Mohamed cited one such proposal—requiring special prosecutors to handle cases involving officer-involved shootings—as a priority that he wants candidates to support.

The PAC doesn’t have any paid staff yet, only volunteers. Mohamed said he would leverage connections with figures in the entertainment industry to win support from “high-profile celebrities and athletes” who support his proposed reforms.

The Center for Public Integrity notes that most of the 916 FEC-approved Super PACs “have little to no financial activity.”

“It’s about time that us, the people, form our own Super PACs,” Mohamed said, drawing a contrast between his startup operation and the massive political network overseen by the billionaire fossil-fuel magnates David and Charles Koch. Interestingly, criminal justice reform is one area where Mohamed, an Obama 2012 campaign volunteer, and the Koch Brothers see eye-to-eye.

Photo via The All-Nite Images/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.