The rise and fall of Shaun King, former Black Lives Matter darling

By Feliks Garcia

On Nov. 6, 2015, Justice Together all but disappeared after founder Shaun King told members via email that he was shutting it down. The now-defunct social-activism group—which, at its peak popularity, boasted members in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as 35 international chapters—had one single, unrealized objective: End police brutality in America.

King, 36, was executive director of Justice Together since its Aug. 28 launch, and a highly visible figure in the Black Lives Matter movement. Passionate and charismatic, he projected the image of a man devoted to seeking justice for victims of police violence. King’s work as senior justice writer for New York Daily News demonstrates as much; he rose to prominence in September 2014 after reporting in grave detail on the death of unarmed black teen Mike Brown, who was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. This newfound visibility earned him thousands of followers on social media, people he would later invite to join Justice Together.

But 14 months after he became a fixture in the Black Lives Matter movement, King’s questionable behavior began to raise red flags for members of the organization. From August to October 2015, Justice Together members said, he became evasive and defensive when they sought direction about when and how to mobilize. Many members were surprised when King unilaterally disbanded the organization, undoing much of their hard work in the process.

This action inspired 30 Justice Together state directors, who call themselves JT30, to publish an open letter on Nov. 13. They called out the discrepancy between King’s public persona and the man behind the computer screen.

They called out the discrepancy between King’s public persona and the man behind the computer screen.

King did not respond to NTRSCTN’s multiple requests for comment via email about JT30’s allegations.

Five former JT30 state directors who worked closely with King, as well as two former members of “Justice. That’s All.” (JTA), a previous activist organization he founded, told NTRSCTN that he didn’t hold himself to the same standards—namely, transparency and accountability—that activists aim to hold police and government institutions. Instead, multiple sources shared similar stories of a man who kept members in the dark until Justice Together’s abrupt end.

Justice Together was never meant to be a boots-on-the-ground organization in that its members would attend protests. Instead, the group’s initial strategy was to act behind the scenes, according to emails King sent members. Regional chapters, led by multiple directors in each state, would gather information on local law enforcement agencies and then work to change policy and end police brutality.

At least, that was the plan.