Xahra Saleem, a key organizer of the Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol, which led to the removal of the Edward Colston statue, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for fraud. The 23-year-old admitted to abusing her position and misappropriating more than £30,000 in donations meant for the movement. The case, which involved the mismanagement of funds raised on GoFundMe, has raised questions about the handling of donations and the financial transparency of the movement.
Avon and Somerset Police launched an investigation into the finances of a GoFundMe campaign called “BristBLM,” initially established to support Changing Your Mindset, a Bristol-based youth organization. Despite generous donations from 588 individuals worldwide, totaling £32,344, the funds never reached their intended destination.
Bristol Crown Court revealed that Saleem received an initial payment of £30,653 from the fundraiser, but she went on to spend a total of £44,815 on personal expenses, characterized as “lifestyle” costs, including substantial Uber expenses. Prosecutor Alistair Haggerty emphasized that the purchases were not significant, with funds spent on shopping, bills, an iPhone, an iMac, beauty products, clothing, Amazon purchases, transportation, and takeout food.
Saleem, who initially pleaded not guilty to two fraud charges, was convicted of fraud by abuse of position. The second charge, relating to a separate online fundraising campaign called “Bristol Protesters Legal Fees,” established shortly after the Colston statue’s toppling, was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service.
In his sentencing, Judge Michael Longman acknowledged that Saleem had not initially intended to commit fraud but had taken advantage of the situation. After the verdict, representatives from Changing Your Mindset, Jay Daley and Deneisha Royal, expressed their disappointment, stating, “It saddens us that a member of our community would betray our goals to create positive change.”
This case highlights the importance of transparent and accountable financial management within activist movements and charitable causes. The misuse of funds intended for social justice initiatives can erode public trust and divert resources from their intended purpose, ultimately hindering the progress of important social causes.
The Black Lives Matter movement, which advocates for racial equality and justice, has distanced itself from Saleem’s actions, emphasizing that this case is not representative of the movement’s principles and goals. It serves as a reminder of the need for responsible stewardship of funds in all charitable and social justice endeavors.