BY Shawn Escoffery, Executive Director, Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation

TFN Board Member and the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation‘s Executive Director Shawn Escoffery recently shared his first-person account with The Chronicle of Philanthropy about his experience being arrested in Los Angeles during the recent protests, saying “Don’t ask how am I doing, ask what am I doing. What are we all doing?


I see the hate in their eyes when I close mine. Also, the smirks. And hear the laughter.

It’s been three weeks since my arrest, and I still see their faces. A few showed compassion, even sadness. But I wasn’t sure if it was for me or for them; for the realization that when they chose to put on a badge, they joined the most powerful gang in Los Angeles.

I am a 46-year-old man and the head of a philanthropic foundation. But I’m still afraid of the police.

I tense up every time I see a cop. I’ve been pulled over many times for driving while Black. I know how warm the hood of a police car feels when you’re being searched. Those who are supposed to “serve and protect’’ have treated me as less than human.

So, when another Black person is murdered by the police, I don’t just watch the horror on television. I scream. I cry. I get angry.

My inbox is flooded with the requisite, “I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine what you are feeling.” What I’m feeling? What about what you are feeling? This should hurt you deeply. You shouldn’t hurt just for me or your Black friends. We’ve done such a good job at segregation in America that we even segregate pain.”

Another Black person is lynched in America. People write skillfully crafted letters. People protest.

I was protesting, too, when I was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department about five blocks from my apartment.

I was officially arrested for breaking a curfew, ostensibly put in place to stop looting. I did see opportunistic mobs and reckless youth break into stores downtown, and even some anarchists looking for a fight. But the police did nothing. Instead, when the chaos was over, they targeted peaceful protestors holding signs and chanting in front of police headquarters. We were old and young; Black, brown, and white; trans, gay, straight, and gender nonconforming; rich and poor.

How It Happened

As the clock approached the 6 p.m. curfew, the police ordered everyone to disperse. We complied — some hastily and others lingering, still taking in the moment. We were in the line of sight of an army of cops and National Guard in full gear, prepared for war. I was one of those who lingered, taking photos. At 6:15 p.m., I was a few blocks from my apartment when I was met by yet another line of cops in riot gear — blacked-out body armor, helmets, cans of pepper spray, rifles slung over shoulders. I told one of them that I was heading home and that I was instructed to walk in this direction. He replied with a smirk. A group of officers rushed from around the corner and formed a tight line in riot position. I was trapped, along with about 15 other stragglers. There was no place to go and no impulse to run. We were peaceful protesters. Our only weapons were our voices and a few cleverly worded signs. And, of course, our cellphones to bear witness.

We were told to sit down with our hands on our heads — until the plastic zip-tie handcuffs came out and our hands were forced behind our backs. After an hour of sitting on the curb with my hands cuffed painfully tight, we were loaded into a transport bus. We drove for a few blocks and were told to get off and stand facing a graffiti-tagged wall. Eventually we were allowed to turn around. I was relieved to see the crowd around me and the determination in everyone’s eyes. I think I cracked a smile under my face mask.

The smile didn’t last long. A group of cops noticed the words on my T-shirt: “I’m rooting for everybody Black.” I am — always. A white cop called his buddies over, also all white, and pointed at me in my handcuffs. They all laughed.

In that moment, it didn’t matter that I graduated from MIT. That I’m the child of Jamaican immigrants who believed deeply in the promise of America and did everything possible to give me a better life. It didn’t matter that I am the executive director of a philanthropic foundation with a fancy office on Wilshire Boulevard.

A Latinx sergeant told me that my T-shirt was racist. I wanted to tell him that I actually root for him, too — another person of color operating in a system that isn’t designed for him.

Read Shawn’s full piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy here entire article here.

About The Author:

Shawn Escoffery is the executive director of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, where he leads a team committed to social justice and addressing the historical inequities that plague many lower-income communities. Since joining the Foundation 2018, Shawn has led the organization through a strategy revisioning process, created a fellowship for someone who was formerly impacted by the Justice System, and launched an Impact Investing portfolio with a 10% carve-out of the endowment. The Foundation now focuses on Criminal Justice Reform, Environmental Justice, and Affordable Housing Preservation with a trust-based approach that is centered in place and emphasizes lasting partnerships as well as capacity building. With assets exceeding $120 million, Shawn oversees a $5 million annual grantmaking budget and is responsible for sourcing impact investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million aimed at advancing racial and gender equity. Prior to joining RPDFF, Shawn directed the Inclusive Economies portfolio at the Surdna Foundation – a nationally focused family foundation with over $1 billion in assets. In this role, Shawn worked to support the development of robust and sustainable economies that include a wide range of businesses, equitable economic policy, and access to quality jobs. Shawn managed a $9.5 million annual grantmaking budget and an impact investing portfolio over $10 million. As an urban planner with over 20 years of experience, Shawn has worked on community economic development and affordable housing projects across the country. Shawn holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English Literature from Rutgers University and a Master’s of City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also holds certificates in Communications and International Relations, Urban Redevelopment, and Effective Leadership from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University, respectively. Shawn currently sits on the board of directors of The Funders Network and Hispanics in Philanthropy.