“Black panther is giving power to people who have not had power to determine their destiny” – Huey Newton
In the wake of massive protests in the summer of 2020, social workers collectively were fragmented in how they actively stood at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement as a beacon of structural, emotional, or political support.
This leadership case assignment examines Social Workers 4 Justice, SW4J, as an educational tool for more effective and ethical decision-making in the plight of societal chaos.
No one will ever forget the summer of 2020. The injustice behind the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among countless others, without a doubt, created a public outcry this generation has never seen before. For days, weeks, and even months after the government shut down businesses and schools, approximately 15 to 26 million people protested against police violence and racial injustice across 550 places in the United States. As the killings mounted and the coronavirus continued to spread, demonstrations and mutual aid groups rose to assist those unhoused on the streets.
Starting around late May, days after the killings of George Floyd, several groups began to form and occupy the blocks adjacent to the White House. The District of Columbia was a unique stage for demonstrations because the former President made threats of law and order, triggering many to defy temporary ordinances to disband assembly drawing larger crowds. As protest crowds and access to food and water grew, unhoused people were still fighting hunger and used the protest as a form of stability. But as each night became an act of civil defiance by the protestors, the police became even more forceful, leaving groups aiding protestors at risk.
The penalties for licensed professionals, like social workers, caught engaging in unlawful activities at protests far exceeded arrest. That can also include their license to practice social work withdrawn by the ASWB. This was a dilemma for members of the SW4J group because do they uphold their code of ethics or risk their clinical licensure?
To some, the answer lay in how effective and ethical is/was its leadership, and could they safeguard its members from harm?
A group of 6 social workers spent two months supporting homeless demonstrators. Pro-bono efforts included housing resources, accessible mental health care, legal aid, and immediate basic needs such as food, clothes, and temporary shelter.
At the beginning of protests, around early June, around 50 social workers volunteered to organize two events outside the White House. The first event was a sleep-in where the group supplied protestors with tents and sleeping bags to occupy H Street; the second was a resource/information stand for visitors attending the unveiling of the BLM Street mural. Over a thousand visitors were in attendance for that event alone, and it was a well-coordinated event organized by the team, but the problem stood between the now and the next steps.
Over the next few weeks, the group met weekly to discuss the next event and how to spend the remaining 6,000 dollars, and the groups were functioning well. As police became more forceful, Shauntia had different views for the group, hoping there would be more participation of social workers at the demonstration.
Although the leadership structure was circular to avoid hierarchical decision-making, it was growing apparent that was a concern and a point of frustration. While the team continued to voice concerns of health and occupational risk.
By mid-June, members of the SW4J field team had witnessed police officers carelessly and without notice to dispose of these resources antagonize an unhoused protestor. The mutual aid stands next to the church were destroyed, leaving many to salvage their belongings from local trash dumps. Shauntia sought approval from the team to spend close to $2,500 on hotel stays, food, cell phones, tents, clothes, and backpacks. On the other hand, several group members grew concerned about the number of social and safety issues happening and if they had the financial capacity and bandwidth to resolve them all at that time.
However, the group became disengaged when these financial priorities did not align with the rest of the team. Some team members felt that one person was not transformative and inclusive of other people’s opinions about the field budget. But others felt that communication was a major factor attributing to the conflict faced by the group. Only left no one felt comfortable being on the frontlines anymore.
During the meetings, the team members met against one of the group members and requested that there should be a better understanding of the team charter and procedures for decision-making. At this culminating meeting, all the team members were present and voiced their concerns about back down in communication. Shauntia had threatened to dissolve the group; however, the group decided to end because of frustration with one person and the lack of resolution.
Should the group have dissolved or stay in tact?
According to the Four-Frame Leadership Model, which frame was used most? And least?
How would you have solved the problem using one of the four leadership frames?