Equality PA Development Director Faces Fraud Charges

It is disappointing to read that the new Development Director of Equality PA, John Campbell, has been charged with two counts of fraud. Campbell allegedly stole more than $8,400 from a charity to pay for his personal medical and college expenses while he served as Executive Director of the Historic Harrisburg Association.  Campbell is on leave from his position with Equality PA. 

John Campbell  Photo: PennLive
John Campbell Photo: PennLive

Campbell is a 26 year gay white male who also reportedly confessed to the theft after an audit of the books found the discrepency.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico Jr., announced two theft charges, one felony and one misdemeanor, against John R. Campbell, 26, at a news conference Tuesday morning. Campbell is expected to surrender to authorities in a day or so, Marsico said.

I don’t know John Campbell. I do know that Pennsylvania’s political and advocacy world is filled with all sorts of white men who commit crimes and return triumphantly to politics or advocacy, some admitting wrongdoing and some not. I wish this could change, but it is simply more useful for the establishment to hold up the Orie sisters misdeeds rather than hold their own accountable for theft or worse. And they wonder why women don’t run for office. So I suspect John Campbell will pay his penance and return to his career trajectory a little tarnished, but not completely destroyed.

But note this please – Campbell admitted that he stole more than $8,000 and he gets to turn himself in while retaining his job with the leading LGBTQ organization in the state, albeit on leave.

Contrast this with 18-year-old Michael Brown, a young man of color, who allegedly stole a cigar and ended up dead at the hands of the police. He didn’t even survive his arrest, much less have a chance to move past it.

Is it fair to compare these situations from two different states? Yes. It is fair. Even if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars, it wouldn’t amount of $8,000. While I don’t want the Harrisburg police to take Campbell down in the street, I do think we could strive for a little more consistency when it comes to how we value young men. White men who commit white-collar crimes get to turn themselves in without doing a perp walk one supposes. Few young men of color charged with much less harmful crimes get that courtesy. Surviving their arrest is almost a luxury.

And that’s the problem with Pennsylvania. You are going to find a thousand reasons to explain to me why John Campbell is not Michael Brown. You don’t have to – I get that. He’s white, gay and part of the upwardly mobile crowd. He’s not walking down a street. He’s not being a man of color. He’s probably not afraid of arrest or how the police will handle him. He’s going to have a good lawyer and a plan for bail when he does turn himself in. He probably has patrons who don’t want to lose their investment.

Campbell stole $8,000 from a community group. But he’s white and male. So that is a whole different kettle of fish than an 18-year-old black man allegedly stealing a cigar. Or walking. Or being a young black man.

Harshly punishing John Campbell won’t change anything for young men of color in Pennsylvania. But acknowledging the radically different ways we respond to criminal conduct – based on race – is something we have to accept. And again that’s assuming Mike Brown was guilty of anything other than being a man of color in the United States which is in great dispute.

I hope John Campbell turns himself around. I hope he recognizes that the  moment his legal detention is up, he regains a ton of privilege that men of color who commit far lesser crimes will never have. I hope he spares us the contrite apologies and simply does better.

Someone asked me today if I was going to do a smear job on Campbell. I see no reason for that. He admits that he stole the money. The way he is treated by the criminal justice system isn’t his individual fault. But I also think it is fair for the rest of us to say “hey, wait a minute” when racist structures so blatantly favor young white men. Those structures won’t change unless we have a lot more of those conversations. A LOT more.

 The crime is sad, yes, but this is what is truly sad – a 26 year gay white man with political connections steals over $8,000 and gets to turn himself in for arrest at his leisure. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old black man walks down the street after allegedly stealing a cigar worth far less than $8,000 and he didn’t even survive his arrest. This is America. Campbell will serve his punishment, pay restitution and regain his white privilege. Michael Brown will continue to be dead. 

The LGBTQ community needs to start making better choices about who we lift up as leaders and role models. The era of the ambitious white 20 something who will work for $25k and a seat on a commission while going to grad school at night is exacerbating the divide between the politicos and the community. They are consuming resources with little regard for the consequences. We should be furious that this man committed this crime. Furious. This whole month should have us furious.

Equality PA has put Campbell on a leave and scrubbed their website of most traces of him – proving that their Communications Director is pretty smart. I wish they had come out stronger, assuring the community that they would internally investigate the person who has been raising our funds for the past several months. But hopefully they’ll take appropriate action in response to the specific circumstances and do what’s necessary for the organization to be credible – we can’t afford to lose ground now.

More importantly, I hope we start connecting the dots as a LGBTQ community and talking more honestly about how racism impacts our lives and how racist oppression is a part of queer identity. That’s the only way to build true equality.



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