The Blue Lives Matter movement really says that black people’s assertion that our lives matter is an affront to white life.
Simplicable.com defines a “false equivalence” as “an argument that two things are much the same when in fact they are not”. In the work of social justice false equivalencies can be very damaging.
The backlash to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement is perhaps one of the best examples of false equivalencies gumming up the works of progress. It should go without saying, but just in case I need to say it, black people in America are victimized regularly by white American racism. Sometimes the racism is interpersonal and blatant and sometimes more systemic or covert, but it is a real part of our daily lives. One of the most difficult things to stomach as a black person is and has been lynching – someone who is powerless being murdered by a person or group of people who do hold power. When black people are murdered by the police, or by random men “standing their ground”, it creates a fear akin to terrorism within our communities. Emmett Till was lynched. Trayvon Martin was lynched. And, Eric Garner was lynched. Lynching of the past was a community spectacle … now we have videos on social media.
When over and over and over again no one is held accountable for the deaths of black people – even in cases when there is video footage of the murder – we get the message that our lives do not matter. Not to the people who take the lives of our loved one. Not to the criminal justice system. Not to the people on the jury. And, not to well meaning white liberals who act confused when we talk about our pain.
The peaceful response to contemporary lynching is #BlackLivesMatter. We are saying, we matter, our lives matter to us. #BlackLivesMatter offers a way for white allies to say, your lives matter to us as well. We could meet and look each other in the eyes and affirm life. When white liberals see us, we seem angry. And we are angry, but we are also hurt, betrayed and very fearful. Fearful for our brothers, our sons and fathers especially.
A false equivalency is the counter protest to #BlackLivesMatter that is the Blue Lives Matter movement. Many communities, like the one I live in now, have adopted a blue version of the American flag as a symbol of support for police. The banner of Blue Lives Matter says that police lives are as threatened by black people as black lives are threatened by police – which is not true by any measure. But more importantly, the false equivalency belies the discrepancy in power between these two groups. The argument is ahistorical and fantastical and provides a premeditated defense for unrestrained use of force. It is beyond a slap in the face. It is a message that says to black people, not only do we have the right to kill you, but you also do not have the right to complain about it. Your effort to assert your very life is an affront to me and my family.
The missing piece of the puzzle of the false equivalency is power. In our communities, especially impoverished communities, the police have the power to take away your freedom or your life. Police are slow to respond to interpersonal violence within communities of color but quick to respond in a lethal way to the theft of a car, for example. Everyone who grows up poor, understands this too early. We don’t hate police because of some personal grudge, they are a militia, literally and figuratively controlling and restricting our movement and quality of life.
A more subtle but no less misguided form of the false equivalency is the effort to build connections between police and communities of color through “special programs” designed to help the community see another side of individual police officers. These efforts are nice, but they tend to focus on a false narrative that police have just gotten a “bad rep” and that children should trust the police. These kinds of programs spread the idea that if you just respond the right way when pulled over, the police officer can refrain from killing you. People in the community are being asked to deescalate volatile situations and change their behavior in order to save their own lives. That is insane! Police are perfectly capable of doing their jobs without perpetrators behaving kindly. We are choosing to blame the victims of police brutality instead of demanding that they, as professionals, be held accountable. Also, it perpetuates an idea that “bad cops” are the ones who harm people. The truth is that the problem is deeply embedded in the racism of our culture. There is too much emphasis placed on the communities of color to rebuild bridges – when the police departments were the ones who burned them down.
Power can be wielded to abuse, or it can lead to increased responsibility to aid and protect those who are less powerful. The changes I would like to see would start with community policing. Put police officers on the ground. If you are too scared to walk around the neighborhoods you police, then being a police officer may not be the right profession for you. Some cities will not allow teachers to work where they do not live. Can we do that for police? There needs to be oversight into police departments from the government, whenever someone who was unarmed is murdered. And, police officers who act differently from how they have been trained need to be fired and never allowed to possess a firearm again. I believe that if we cannot ever hold police officers accountable in our courts of law, maybe police should have their own courts – like the military has – and maybe other police officers can shut down the corruption and abuse. In the meantime, so called “good cops” need to be more vocal about the abuse they see going on. Mostly something rather than nothing needs to happen.
Unfortunately for the “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” segment of the American populous, #BlackLivesMatter is not going away. A spirit of resistance was born in the bowels of slave ships and it will never die!
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Photo Credit – King Walker stands in front of police officers and their supporters at the conclusion of a “Blue Lives Matter” rally in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 30, 2015. (Reuters / Jim Bourg) The Nation