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Chicago Black Lives Matter Leader Says No to Obama Meeting

Aislinn Pulley called the meeting of civil rights leaders a “90-second sound bite.”

Photo via the Twitter account of Valerie Jarrett, the president's senior advisor

Yesterday, for the White House’s annual Black History Month reception, black activists and leaders from all over the country traveled to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to participate in a meeting with the president about criminal justice reform. Those who attended included DeRay Mckesson, a Baltimore activist who is running for mayor of the city; Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Al Sharpton. But at least one person refused the invitation: Aislinn Pulley, a co-founder of Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter. In an op-ed on Truthout, Pulley explained her decision to turn down the opportunity.


“I was under the impression that a meeting was being organized to facilitate a genuine exchange on the matters facing millions of Black and Brown people in the United States,” she wrote. “Instead, what was arranged was basically a photo opportunity and a 90-second sound bite for the president. I could not, with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it.”

Pulley has been involved in many Chicago-based social justice efforts, including a campaign urging the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the city’s treatment of the police killing of 16-year old Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, and for the mismanagement of Chicago schools. She writes in her op-ed that a conversation about criminal justice cannot help unless the word “criminal” were redefined to include people like Emanual, who imposed a $200 million budget cut on the Chicago educational system, or State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, for trying to bury the video of McDonald’s shooting.

“If the administration is serious about addressing the issues of Black Lives Matter Chicago—and its sister organizations that go by different names across this nation—they can start by meeting the simple demands of families who want transparency, and who want police that kill Black people unjustly to be fired, indicted, and held accountable,” she wrote.

Mckesson, who is frequently associated with Black Lives Matter but has in the past denied connections to the official Black Lives Matter organization, said the meeting was a useful one.

“We had a really strong conversation,” Mckesson said. “We covered so many topics from policing contracts to use-of-force policies to Flint and the school-to-prison pipeline to the upcoming Supreme Court nomination.”

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