I just read this article from the New York Times, and I feel like I have to get something off my chest. In the article about how some police groups are calling for a Beyonce boycott, there is mention of a pro-police group called “Blue Lives Matter.” My entire body tensed as I read that, just as it did when shortly after the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement there was a rush by certain people, mostly if not entirely white, to insist that all lives matter.
They are missing the point.
I am white. I think in a post like this, that’s important to state. I live in a diverse, densely populated urban area. I watched Los Angeles burst into violence and flame after the police that beat Rodney King were found not guilty. I didn’t like the form that expression of anger took, but I understood the anger. Because the frustration and anger took a violent, unorganized form, no sustained movement came out of it. But now we have Black Lives Matter, and it is organized, it is sustainable, and I believe it has an incredibly important name that should not be compromised by imitators and retractors.
Our country has proven time and time again that black lives don’t matter: when crimes more often committed in predominantly black neighborhoods carry longer sentences than comparable crimes committed in predominantly white neighborhoods (read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for more details); when bank executives can commit fraud and steal billions from the American people without serving jail time, but a young black man can have the entire direction of his life changed by being caught with an amount of drugs only sufficient for personal use (read Matt Taibbi’s The Divide for more); when stop and frisk disproportionately targets black men; when black people are arrested for essentially nothing — loitering, possession of marijuana, etc. — and are coerced and threatened into a false plea, and then can’t find work because they have a criminal record; when officers use excessive force during routine stops where the black suspect is understandably frightened and therefore behaving “suspiciously.” They know what can happen to them even if they did not do anything wrong at all. Who wouldn’t be afraid? Though I’m nervous when pulled over, I can generally assume I actually committed some traffic violation, will be given a ticket, and will be sent on my way. In fact, that is exactly what has happened the three times I have been pulled over. A black driver — whether a teenager or a celebrated writer (read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Ta’Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me) — does not have that same sense of security. Every traffic stop could lead to disaster. We’ve seen it. We can’t deny it.
I am sure there are wonderful police officers out there. I have met several. But there does not need to be a Blue Lives Matter movement. There needs to be a change in our system that screams “Black lives don’t matter!” in its institutionalized policies and practices — from disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates for black students to criminal human rights violations in cities like Flint.
Black lives do matter, and we, as as a country do need to be reminded, frequently, loudly, abrasively until there is systemic change. The people trying to silence the movement through backlash against its supporters only serve to prove how desperately this movement is needed. I hope one day we can say all lives matter and it will be true, but we haven’t earned that phrase yet. Until we do, we must insist: Black Lives Matter.
Support the movement here.