For too long, conservatives and Republicans have built up straw-men, and sent us down red herrings whenever the issue of race came up.
Bring up Black Lives Matter, criminal justice reform, or police brutality in a conversation, count to three, and wait for the same arguments and “concerns” to be brought up. You’ll either get people completely denying the legitimacy of BLM; or, you’ll get the evenhanded pretenders.
These people do not care to figure out what these black organizations and movements want. They cherry-pick extreme examples and statements to argue that BLM encourages cop hatred, violence, and racial strife. They read, and take for fact the statements of Republican experts and pundits. They hold up black Republicans as examples of why the situation isn’t as bad as it’s claimed. Tokenism. They deny legitimacy to black issues because they, according to their own experiences, haven’t seen anything like that.
All in all, the Right has a perverted view of BLM, and the injustice blacks face from the criminal justice and law enforcement systems.
Qualifiers are Not Needed in this Debate
Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman describes this simplistic perspective the best:
“We’ve heard black lives matter, all lives matter, well cops lives matter too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and say lives matter. And take that to the bank.”
Unfortunately, this whole issue is built on the cornerstone of a qualifier. The whole point of Black Lives Matter is to address the unjust treatment of blacks at the hands of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. It’s not about white people killed by police, and it’s certainly not about police deaths.
“All Lives Matter” is a reactionary statement. The hashtag did not become popular until Black Lives Matter popped into the scene, triggering many conservatives and Republicans as it entered the spotlight.
It’s the very reactionary nature of All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter that makes them so unproductive. If your friend’s child or pet is sick, do you remind them that they should think about every child and pet who’s sick? Would that help your friend and their situation? No, it wouldn’t. The same is true with BLM.
They believe blacks are treated unfairly by the system. They’re not saying “ONLY Black Lives Matter,” they’re saying “Black Lives Matter TOO.” To them, whites aren’t oppressed, and cops hold privileged status in courts, society, and the media.
By trying to remove the qualifier you’re dismissing their concerns by imposing your own narrative on the issue. You are trying to remove that uncomfortable feeling by enforcing colorblindness.
Black Lives Matter Differs from Past Activism — Or Does It?
Another criticism of BLM is that it diverts from past successful racial equality movements. Critics like to trot this point out, erroneously assuming the Civil Rights Movement was overall non-violent. They assume the movement was widely accepted and largely peaceful. This is just not true. The Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s was not the product of one leader. At a most simplistic level, the movement can be divided into Malcolm X (confrontational and militant,) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (non-violent protest).
Second, the Civil Rights Movement had its fair share of riots, and controversial “inconsiderate” actions. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, blacks boycotted the Montgomery Bus system. It was a time of numerous sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, all considered “inconsiderate” actions.
Riots and protests were nationwide. King described the wave of protests and riots as “the whirlwinds of revolt.” Blacks and whites violently clashed over desegregation in Philadelphia and Harlem state construction projects. In fact, Civil Rights activists became more and more combative during the years of 1963 to 1964, in response to increased police brutality and KKK attacks.
The late 1960s experienced numerous race riots, including the Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965, and Detroit in 1967. Over a hundred cities experienced riots during 1967 and 1968 (including Newark, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Washington D.C.)
Between 1963 and 1973, there were at least 30 major race riots. For comparison, between 1988 and 2016, there have been around 18 major race riots (interestingly, most were because of police shootings of minorities).
By arguing BLM differs from conventional activism of the recent past they romanticize and airbrush the Civil Rights Movement.
Black Lives Matter is Anti-Police
There is undoubtedly a large faction of BLM that is anti-police. No doubt there. But their anti-cop attitudes aren’t unfounded. The black community largely doesn’t trust the police like whites do. Both races have drastically different experiences with cops.
I don’t blame blacks for being anti-cop, nor do I believe it’s the biggest problem with the movement. Police brutality won’t subside once blacks get over their distrust of cops. Complaining about BLM members not paying enough respects to the death police officers isn’t going to fix anything.
The black community’s trust can be mended, but it won’t be fixed by telling blacks to “just obey the law.”
As I explain in the next point, it’s police policies that need to change first.
“Tough on Crime” Policies and Greater Police Presence
“Tough-on-crime” policies, also known as Broken-Window Policing, has proved destructive to law enforcement’s relationship with the black community. Broken-window policing is where police focus on low-level crimes to deter future serious crimes. So for example; removing graffiti and squatters helps deter future robberies, murders, and rape.
The problem with this policing policy is that it turns police into hostile enforcers instead of trusted protectors. “Tough-on-crime” moves away from community policing, substituting it for over-policing and aggressive tactics. Instead of keeping the community safe, broken-window policing keeps the community on lock-down. Where community policing focuses on the relationships between the community and their police force, broken-window policing focuses on enforcing laws with little to no attention paid to community needs.
More police aren’t needed to help the black community, and a “strong police force” isn’t healthy for black lives. What’s healthy is a police force that is focused on more than enforcing laws and aggressive police tactics.
Has Black Lives Matter Failed?
Has Black Lives Matter failed in its mission? Has it failed to enact change? Has it failed to shift the discussion? Has it failed to increase awareness?
You can definitely say that BLM has failed to appeal to a wider audience. That wider audience being general middle class whites. But to say that the movement has largely failed is to jump the shark. The movement is still young. The issue is still very real, and the discussion isn’t going away anytime soon. Recent football players taking the knee during the national anthem is one example of this.
Just because many conservatives and Republicans have a hard time looking past the occasional riots and “inconsiderate” social media comments doesn’t mean BLM is facing huge backlash. Last time I checked, the Right isn’t seen as the most racially friendly group, which might explain why BLM hasn’t tried to reach out to them. They don’t see it as worthwhile. It’s difficult to discuss the touchy subject of race when one side refuses to put aside the colorblind reality they’ve created for themselves.