When it became evident that an increasing number of black people were being killed by police despite being unarmed and often innocent, some activists formed Black Lives Matter. Given the obvious nature of their complaints, it’s unlikely that the founders thought the organization would be seen as particularly controversial. Yet many white people seemed to miss the point or, more likely, willfully ignored it. In response, they proclaimed that all lives matter.
Of course all lives matter! So do white lives and blue (police) lives. But such statements ignore the issue. The BLM organizers weren’t saying that black lives matter more than others. After reeling from police killings of unarmed black people: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland – the list is depressingly long – the activists were simply saying that black lives should matter as much as others! But the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people, black children, black people with their hands up in a clear sign of surrender, and black people in police custody clearly demonstrated to them that many police seem to assign a lesser value to black lives.
What the activists were really saying is that black lives matter, too! And the reason they took offense at the responses of All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter is that those slogans entirely ignored the issue. They showed a lack of empathy and understanding of racism, even if the responses are well-intended.
Even when the Department of Justice (DOJ) released its scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, many Americans failed to get the point. They again showed a lack of understanding when the DOJ released an equally scathing report on policing in Baltimore. Even as the officers who killed unarmed black people continued to escape charges or were acquitted for their actions, many white Americans either ignored the developments or chose to demonize the members of Black Lives Matter as engaging in reverse racism. We continue to see signs and chants of Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.
The backlash reached a crescendo when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem prior to a NFL exhibition game (an anthem which, by the way, was written by a slave-owner and includes racist text in its second verse). Kaepernick was quickly dismissed as un-American and many accused him of disrespecting veterans who fought for our country. Of course, he was doing neither. He was exercising his First Amendment right to call attention to the disparity in policing of blacks and whites. In doing so, he was trying to improve the country; to make it live up to its promise for all Americans.
Here’s the thing: Until the police, the white supremacists and the clueless supporters of Donald Trump pull their heads out of their collective behinds, the BLM movement will grow.
What will it take to make Black Lives Matter end the demonstrations? That’s simple. The answer is for law enforcement officers and the justice system to end the unequal treatment of minorities. That will require higher standards and more intensive training for police. No more 16-week wonders who trade in their police academy books for guns. No more militarized police departments who treat policing as war. No more bullies with badges.
Police Chiefs must be tasked with identifying the bad apples within their departments and firing them. More important, the good police officers (and there are many of them) must end the practice of covering up for the racist and incompetent officers. Likewise, the police unions must hold their members accountable. When bad cops are allowed to continue to dispense street justice in a disproportionate way, everyone loses, including the good officers who place their lives on the line to ensure public safety for all of the people in their communities.
Finally, the state Attorneys General and the DOJ should track arrests and the penalties meted out in all communities across the nation. When they discover disparities they must hold the cities responsible to correct the issues or lose their state and federal funding.
No group of people should be allowed to think that their lives matter less than others. Black Lives Matter, too!