Jeffery Shaun King
September 17, 1979
|Alma mater||Morehouse College (BA)|
Arizona State University (MA)
|Political party||Independent (after 2016)|
Democratic (before 2016)
|Movement||Black Lives Matter|
Jeffery Shaun King (born September 17, 1979) is an American writer, civil rights activist and co-founder of Real Justice PAC. King uses social media to promote social justice causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement.
King was raised in Kentucky and received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. While at Morehouse, King was elected president of the Student Government Association and was awarded the Oprah Winfrey Scholarship. He later received his graduate degree from Arizona State University.
After college, he worked as a high school teacher in Atlanta. He then went on to work as a pastor and founded a church in Atlanta called Courageous Church. During this time, King launched a number of internet campaigns, such as aHomeinHaiti.org, TwitChange.com, and HopeMob.org.
King is currently a writer-in-residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project and contributes to The Intercept and The Appeal. Previously, he contributed to the New York Daily News, Daily Kos, the Tom Joyner Morning Show and The Young Turks. In 2018, King co-founded Real Justice PAC, which supports progressive candidates running for district attorney offices, and launched The North Star website.
Early life and education
King was born and raised in Versailles, Kentucky. Although his birth certificate names Jeffrey Wayne King as the father, King stated in 2015 that his mother told him his actual biological father is a light-skinned black man. By second grade, King's mother, Naomi Kay (Fleming) King, was raising King and his brother as a single parent. King attended Huntertown Elementary School and Woodford County High School.
Reported high school assault
King reports that he was the victim of racism and hate crimes while growing up in Kentucky. He told reporters that one day a pickup truck full of youths attempted to run him over with the vehicle on school property. After reporting the incident to school authorities, King recalls that the authorities protected the youths rather than punishing them.
King later reported that a second assault occurred, wherein "a dozen self-described 'rednecks'" beat him and the injuries caused him to miss a portion of two years of high school due to multiple spinal surgeries. King characterized the assault as a racially motivated hate crime. In 2015, media outlets questioned King's account of the assault and, citing interviews with the investigating detective Keith Broughton and police reports on the case, characterized the fight as a one-on-one between King and another boy over a girl and that the injuries were minor. Broughton reportedly interviewed multiple witnesses, including a teacher who broke up the fight. A band teacher, two fellow students from King's high school, as well as King's wife, posted their recollection of the event to Facebook, backing King's account.
King attended Morehouse College, a private, historically black men's college in Atlanta, Georgia, where he majored in history. In 1999, King was elected president of the student government association based on a campaign of inclusion for all students. Midway through his education, he had to take a medical leave. Upon his return, he was named an Oprah Winfrey Scholar by Morehouse. Oprah scholars are given financial support and are required to maintain their grade point average and do community service. King fulfilled his community service requirement by tutoring and mentoring students at Franklin Lebby Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta. After graduation in 2002, King was a research assistant for Morehouse history professor Alton Hornsby Jr.
After graduation, King was a high school civics teacher for about a year and then worked in Atlanta's juvenile justice system.
King left teaching and worked as a pastor at Total Grace Christian Center in DeKalb County, Georgia. He had been inspired to become a pastor when he was in high school; while King was recovering from injuries after an assault, King was regularly visited by his best friend's father, who was a pastor. He recalled growing up without a father figure and said, "I just found myself so impacted by this man coming to visit me that I wanted to be like him.” In 2008, King founded a church in Atlanta called "Courageous Church". He made use of social media to recruit new members and was known as the "Facebook Pastor". In 2012, King resigned from the Courageous Church, citing personal stress and disillusionment.
In March 2010, while still a pastor, he founded aHomeinHaiti.org as a subsidiary of Courageous Church and used eBay and Twitter to raise $1.5 million to send tents to Haiti after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was a spokesperson for the campaign.
King's work for Haiti inspired him to launch TwitChange.com, a charity auction site. TwitChange held Twitter charity auctions on eBay where celebrities offered to retweet winning bidders' tweets in exchange for support of a particular charity. One campaign raised funds to build an orphanage in Bonneau, Haiti. In 2010, TwitChange won the Mashable Award for "Most Creative Social Good Campaign".
In 2012, King and web designer Chad Kellough founded HopeMob.org, a charity site that used voting to select a particular person's story and then raise money for that story until its goal was met. The money went to an organization which provided for the person's needs, not to the person individually. After one goal was met, the next story in line would then get funds raised. HopeMob initially raised funds to build their platform in January 2012 on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Their campaign raised about $125,000.
King has written at least one article about the Black Lives Matter movement, gaining prominence during the events following the shooting of Michael Brown. King wrote an article analyzing the Brown crime scene, and argued that the evidence suggested that officer Darren Wilson's life was not in danger during the shooting.
King became a contributing blogger for the politically liberal website, the Daily Kos, in September 2014. His contributions to the website have focused on civil rights, violence in Ferguson, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as allegations of police brutality, especially toward the black community.
On October 2, 2015, King joined New York Daily News as a senior justice writer, where focused on reporting and commentary on social justice, police brutality and race relations. On December 28, 2016, Cenk Uygur announced that King had been hired as a political commentator for The Young Turks. King left the Daily News in August 2017.
King has written extensively about his experiences as a biracial person.
The North Star
In 2019, King launched the crowdfunded website The North Star, calling it an online revival of the anti-slavery newspaper of the same name, and saying that he had the support of relatives of Frederick Douglass, the original paper's editor. The site has articles, podcast episodes, and videos for a subscription fee, with a focus on social justice issues such as police brutality and mass incarceration.
The Daily Beast reported that the site didn't deliver all features that were promised to fundraisers, such as a daily video broadcast and an app. King said he had been overzealous with the project and that he should have listened to advisors who told him that his plans for the site were too ambitious. After leaving The North Star, historian and former editor-in-chief Keisha Blain accused King of being "a liar & a fraud" and said "there’s a lot I simply cannot say because I signed an NDA." Another former employee said the project was a "shady fucking business" and claimed they had to fight for months to receive health care benefits they were promised. King replied that all employees received full health care coverage. After being laid off, another former employee said, regarding King, "I’d never be led astray by somebody’s social media following ever again."
In August 2015, he launched Justice Together, an organization to identify police brutality and lobby local politicians for change. To the surprise of many of the group's members, King unilaterally disbanded the organization in the fall of 2016. In September 2016, King proposed an Injustice Boycott for December of that year.
Assault of DeAndre Harris
In an October 11, 2017 article in The Washington Post, Shaun King was credited with leading a successful months-long and far-reaching social media campaign which led to the identification and arrest of three of the men behind the August 12, 2017, assault on DeAndre Harris during the Unite the Right rally. 18-year-old Daniel P. Borden from Mason, Ohio; 33-year-old Alex Michael Ramos of Marietta, Georgia; and 22-year-old Jacob Scott Goodwin from Ward, Arkansas, were arrested for the parking-garage beating. The Washington Post described how the attack on Harris became a "symbol of the violence and racial enmity that engulfed Charlottesville when white supremacists, Klan members and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotesters." Two were subsequently convicted while two others are awaiting trial.
Harris was later served with an arrest warrant sought by 48-year-old Harold Crews, North Carolina's League of the South chairman and a real estate lawyer, who alleged that Harris had hit him with a flashlight during an altercation prior to the Market Street Garage brawl. Crews used a law by which alleged crime victims who have filed a police report can get a warrant if they can convince a local judge to sign it. In the interview with the Washington Post, King responded, "I am disgusted that the justice system bent over backwards to issue a warrant for one of the primary victims of that day, when I and others had to fight like hell to get that same justice system to prosecute people who were vicious in their attacks against Harris and others. Now, we're seeing white supremacists celebrate on social media, bragging about Harris's arrest. They're hailing this as a victory." Harris was later acquitted of misdemeanor assault by a local judge.
Tamir Rice fundraising
King has raised money for multiple causes including the Tamir Rice shooting, and various incidents where the Black Lives Matter movement has been involved. Through the fund-raising website, YouCaring.com, King raised $60,000 for Rice's family. Rice, a 12-year-old resident of Cleveland, Ohio, was killed in 2014 by two Cleveland city policemen after they responded to a complaint "of a male black sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people."
After learning the child had not been buried as of five months after the shooting, and the child's mother had moved into a homeless shelter, he started the fund to assist the Rice family; however, family attorney Timothy Kucharski stated in May 2015 that neither he nor the Rice family had heard of King or the fundraiser, nor had they received any money. The money raised was then seized by the court and placed into Tamir Rice's estate instead of being freely available to the family. King and the Rice family's new legal counsel, Benjamin Crump, then started a second charity drive with the proceeds going directly to the family. An additional $25,000 was raised.
Jazmine Barnes shooting
Seven-year-old Jazmine Barnes was killed in a drive-by shooting in Houston at 7 a.m. December 30, 2018. The unknown assailant pulled up alongside the family's truck and opened fire, injuring the mother and other child. King used his Twitter and Instagram following to spread information and awareness. He also collected information from eyewitnesses to help the Harris County Sheriff's Office. King and former classmate S. Lee Merritt offered a $25,000 award for information leading to an arrest of the unknown suspect. After no information for 24 hours, the reward was later raised to $60,000, with $35,000 from their private funds, and an additional $25,000 from donors.
Police credited King with providing a tip that helped lead them to suspect Eric Black Jr., who later admitted he was involved in the shooting. He faces a charge of capital murder. On January 6, Texas authorities charged Black Jr. Prosecutors named a second person, Larry Woodruffe, as an additional suspect in the shooting. Police do not believe Jazmine's family was the intended target and that they may have been shot at "as a result of mistaken identity."
On Twitter, King initially posted the mugshot of a white male, Robert Paul Cantrell, who he identified as involved in the shooting. King said in a deleted tweet, "We've had 20 people call or email us and say he is a racist, violent asshole and always has been. Just tell me everything you know." Police later said the man was not connected with the crime, and King deleted the tweet, though not until the man had received threats on social media.
The incident was revived in late July 2019 when Cantrell committed suicide in his jail cell, where he was being held on separate robbery and evasion charges. Just before he died, he allegedly told his lawyer that he was concerned about the death threats his family was still receiving in the aftermath of his false involvement in Jazmine Barnes’ murder.
King left the Democratic Party after the 2016 election, alleging corruption and lack of neutrality during the 2016 primaries. He said the party is dishonest and that "its leaders have supported and advanced all kinds of evil".
Real Justice PAC
Questions regarding race
In August 2015, Milo Yiannopoulos questioned King's biracial identity in an article for Breitbart News. Yiannopoulos reported that King's birth certificate lists Naomi Fleming and Jeffrey Wayne King, both of whom are white, as King's parents and that a police report cited King's race as "white."
King responded that his mother has told him that his biological father was not the man mentioned on his birth certificate but rather a light-skinned black man. His wife, who knew him in high school, and other classmates have stated that they understood King to be biracial growing up.
On May 20, 2018, King accused a white Texas state trooper of raping Sherita Dixon-Cole, a black human resources professional. The trooper arrested Dixon-Cole for drunk driving, and King based his accusation on statements she and her family made to King and Philadelphia lawyer S. Lee Merritt. King's social media posts, which identified the trooper by name, went viral, and "substantial harassment and threats" were made against the arresting trooper as well as another trooper with the same last name. The Texas Department of Public Safety released nearly two hours of body-cam footage on May 22 that exonerated the trooper. Merritt subsequently apologized for the false accusation and national attention he had brought to the case. King deleted his social media posts after the body-cam video was released.
King has been accused of raising funds for causes that were never received by those he was fundraising for. According to BuzzFeed News, he founded an organization called Justice Together, which he raised several thousand dollars for and then abruptly shuttered.
In one case, a former member of the organization who asked to have a donation returned said that King refused to refund her money. An investigation by Goldie Taylor of The Daily Beast detailed discrepancies in amounts raised for different charities such as a Haiti relief project, and in one case, starting a crowdfunding project for the family of Tamir Rice without their knowledge. Activists on Twitter questioned if he took the $100,000 reward money for information that led to the arrest of the men who shot Jazmine Barnes.
On January 15, 2019, King tweeted that he was pursuing legal action against social justice activists on Twitter who questioned his previous fundraisers. His attorneys sent cease-and-desist letters to an unnamed number of people; one was a young queer black activist named Clarissa Brooks who stated in a response, "This was a heavy-handed and unnecessary act by someone claiming to be committed to justice and uplifting Black people." David Dennis Jr. wrote in News One that the purpose of the cease-and-desist letters seemed to be "old-fashioned intimidation and forcible silencing."
King has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. He wrote an editorial explaining the purpose of taking legal action and addressed some specific critiques levied against him.
Twitter comments on depictions of Jesus
In June 2020, King tweeted that statues, murals, and stained glass windows depicting a white Jesus should be removed. "I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down," he tweeted. "They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been." King's comments quickly drew condemnation from some on Twitter, including several prominent conservative figures. The tweet has since been deleted.
Bishop Donald J. Hying responded with an appeal for tolerance:
- "In the Catholic Church, every culture, country, ethnicity and race has claimed Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary as their own. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego as a mestiza, African art depicts Jesus as Black, Asian depictions of the Blessed Mother, too, take on similarities of both bodily appearance and, often, cultural garb. In this context, are white representations of Christ and his Mother inherently signs of white supremacy? I think not. Because the Son of God became incarnate in our human flesh, does not all of humanity – every race, tribe and tongue – have the spiritual ability to depict him through the particular lens of their own culture?"
In 2018, Shaun King expressed disdain for Kamala Harris and said he did not intend to support her or Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries due to their positions on criminal justice. On November 14, 2018 he stated, via Twitter, "I'll be frank and tell you, two Democrats, that I am 99% sure I won't be supporting - primarily because of their dismal history on criminal justice reform over the course of their entire careers. Joe Biden & Kamala Harris. They both helped build & advance mass incarceration.” In another tweet he stated, “Just 4 years ago to this very day, a federal judge had to ORDER California Attorney General Kamala Harris to release more non-violent offenders from prison, but she fought it hard because 'prisons would lose an important labor pool'. That's a quote." On August 11, 2020, King faced ridicule by media outlets for openly expressing newfound support for Harris via social media. He believes her stance has changed, tweeting, "I am incredibly proud to see a brilliant Black woman, and HBCU grad, chosen as a Vice Presidential nominee. I've done political work my whole life. It's rarely things dreams are made of. Kamala Harris is the most progressive VP nominee in American history...She has improved drastically on all justice & policing-related issues since she was last District Attorney in 2011.”
- Black Entertainment Television's Humanitarian Hero Award (2018)
- TIME Magazine's The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet (2018)
- Black Entertainment Television's Social Movement Award (2019)
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