Prison reform activists take out full-page ad calling for NBA to oust Pistons owner Tom Gores

·4 min read

An advocacy group is calling on the NBA to force out Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores unless he divests in a prison telecom company.

New York nonprofit Worth Rises first made the request in a letter to the NBA dated Dec. 10, citing “his active participation in the prison industry and deliberate exploitation of Black, Brown and economically distressed communities.” It took its message to a larger audience on Sunday with a full-page ad in the New York Times.

“If Black Lives Matter, what are you doing about Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores?” the ad read in bold letters at the bottom. It listed the 29 other team owners and NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

The ad refers people to its website where it outlines concerns with Gores and the telecom company Securus as well as ask for support on a petition to force Gores out.

Why do advocates want Pistons owner out?

The private equity firm Gores owns, Platinum Equity, bought Securus Technologies in 2017. Securus helps set the phone call rates for jailed inmates to make phone calls to their families.

The group wrote on its website:

Gores owns the predatory prison telecom corporation Securus, which is infamous for charging families egregious rates to connect with loved ones behind bars. His greed has broken up families and traumatized children, who are disproportionately Black and Brown due to racist policing and policies. If Gores cannot meet his responsibility to the public, and Detroiters specifically, the NBA must step in.

The charges, which can reach $15 for a 15-minute phone call, are criticized for being too high and separating inmates from support systems. A 2015 study by a collection of nonprofits found that one in three families go into debt staying in touched with an inmate. Most of those are women of color.

Gores stepped down from his position on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art two months ago given his ties to the company and the national reckoning with criminal justice reform.

Gores doesn’t align with Black Lives Matter, advocates say

Tom Gores in a leather jacket.
Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores is being asked to step down by prison system reform advocates. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Worth Rises was in contact with Gores last year, per ESPN. The issue is taking new urgency with the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Advocates view Gores’ interests in the telecom company as in opposition to the movement.

“At the end of the day, [Gores'] business stands in complete tension with the notion that Black Lives Matter, and that's something he has to reckon with,” Bianca Tylek, founder and executive director of Worth Rises, told ESPN.

The league publicly supported Black Lives Matter this summer with the words painted on the court and players able to choose a pre-approved phrase to put on their jerseys. Teams and players have marched and advocated for racial justice reform.

“In his current position and how he's currently building his wealth and what he's doing to our communities, he shouldn't be allowed to own one of our favorite basketball teams,” Tylek said, via ESPN.

Gores’ company ‘committed to social justice’

Neither the Pistons nor the NBA have commented on the calls for Gores ouster. Mark Barnhill, a partner at Platinum Equity, said the company is also working to fix the issue. Via ESPN:

“[Gores] is directing any personal profits from Securus to reform efforts in this area." He was not able to provide the amount.

Barnhill responded to Sunday's newspaper advertisement by saying, “Our commitment to the community and to social justice is visible every day,” citing the company's work with numerous Detroit-area programs and nonprofits. Securus is committed to shouldering “the heavy lifting necessary to transform the company and the industry,” he said.

Securus announced in a January 2020 press release it had lowered the average cost of phone calls by 30 percent over the past three years. It said it would decrease it an additional 15 percent over the next three years. It has also pledged to donate $3 million to efforts aimed at reducing recidivism.

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