The Social Justice of All Lives Mattering

When looked at in a vacuum, with all the politics and rhetoric removed, social justice is the fair and just relationship between the individual and society. The many types of ‘individuals’ are the concept that I am focusing in on in this article… Specifically, the “black lives matter” and “all lives matter” argument. I will try to do so in the fairest way possible, in the spirit of adhering to social justice.

Now, I am going to directly discuss the seething and vitriolic political discourse on the “Black Lives Matter” movement. I want to start by stating that it is difficult to articulate the point I’m about to make. People react so emotionally to this argument, that I think they sometimes fail to stop and think about what the other side is trying to state. And, I am not trying to pass any type of judgment on the movement (or black society) itself. I am trying to put myself in other person’s shoes and empathize what the “Black Lives Matter” movement is trying to achieve. And that is… When diplomacy has failed, it is sometimes necessary to be more assertive. It’s sometimes necessary to be vocal, disruptive, and visual. Therefore, I am passing no judgment, nor am I trying to criticize the movement… I am simply trying to make a distinction.

But as a statement however… The lives of all people are being negatively affected by death at the hands of police. According to the stats, black people have a disproportionately higher chance of having criminal justice contacts. I remember reading a Washington Post article last year that totaled up 385 police killings by May of last year. Of those killed, 171 were white, 100 black, and 54 Hispanic. Though the article shows that there were 71 more white people killed by police, it’s important to remember that black people make up only about 14% of the population. Doing a little math, the figures in this article show that black people are being killed three times (6 to 7x more likely for black males) more frequently than white people. Though attention should be brought to the disproportionately high level of police killing black people, people should not ignore the larger issue at hand.

I recently watched a ‘Vice’ episode which reported on the ever increasing militarization of American police forces. There is an interesting distinction that the reporter made: he stated that soldiers are meant to occupy via force while police are supposed to use discretion and communication in order to keep the peace. He also stated that today’s police officer has a fundamentalist approach to enforcing the law. Instead of talking with a person, most police simply give tickets and/or use force. The article theorizes that police dress the part of a soldier by wearing camouflage uniforms and having ex-military hardware and this places police in a soldier mindset. These trends and behaviors have developed concurrently with increased public attention regarding police killings. Though it is difficult to find statistics, it does seem that police have been using lethal force with greater frequency over the past few years. (Click to see both the episode and the reporter debrief)

It’s also important to look at the lives of mentally ill people, who are often treated unjustly regardless of their skin color. I have worked with them mentally ill for years, and can attest to how poorly officers attempt to communicate. Though there are specially trained officers within the San Jose police force, those officers are often unavailable. When a mentally ill person is verbally threatening or aggressive (although not usually brandishing a weapon,) I have seen the police forcefully interject and slam the person to the ground. In fact, 1/4 of recorded deaths by police force in 2015 were mental health related. Again, this is a microcosm of how police currently deal with the public. And it’s something to which society needs to pay attention. Police need to be taught to speak first, and act only as a last resort.

Ignoring police brutality against other minorities, and even white people, is not a solid recipe for social justice. Ignoring the larger scope of police brutality is not a fair and just relationship between the individual and society. So in closing, there is a distinction between The “Black Lives Matter” movement and a statement which only brings attention to the lives of Black Americans. More attention should be brought to the unfair treatment of black people in this country, but black people are not the only demographic which is negatively affected by our government. We should all stand together and convince our government that all lives do indeed matter.