I may get “in trouble” for TABWW (i.e., talking about Blacks while White), but I’m gonna do it anyway.
In the wake of the recent, highly-publicized incidents in which a white police officer killed an unarmed Black man (e.g., Michael Brown, Eric Garner) and the subsequent non-indictments of the officers involved, you may have noticed the phrase “Black Lives Matter” being used on everything from protest signs to social media hashtags. As I understand it, it is meant to be a combination reminder and protest that Blacks in America are marginalized and consistently being targeted for brutal (sometimes deadly) treatment by law enforcement and that the white perpetrators often seem to “get away with it.” Moreover, it is claimed that this is a “massive epidemic” and the result of systemic racism throughout the nation and, in particular, within the criminal justice system. If accurate, this is an incredibly serious matter that needs to be investigated and dealt with. If it is a largely inaccurate perception, then the real facts (from reliable sources) need to be communicated to the general populace (not just Blacks) and the reasons for the false perception need to be addressed with patience and sensitivity.
Before long, some people began using the more inclusive phrase “All Lives Matter”, in an effort to take race out of the equation and recognize that police brutality is not just a problem for Blacks. I certainly appreciate the motivation behind such an effort, but not everyone does. Kathleen McCartney, the (white) president of Smith College, did something she thought was compassionate but has earned her national notoriety. When she included the “All Lives Matter” sentiment in a campus-wide email regarding her college community’s “struggle” and “hurt” over the non-indictment of Officer Wilson in the Ferguson case, she was berated for being insensitive to the Black Community. A student at Smith tweeted,
“No, Kathy. Please do not send out an email saying ‘All lives matter.’ This isn’t about everyone, this is about black lives.”
Columnist Julia Craven at the Huffington Post concluded her rant against Ms. McCartney with,
“Police brutality is a BLACK issue…. Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already. But, just know, police violence and brutality disproportionately affects my people. Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally and neither is our outrage.”
Not wanting to cause any dissension or add to the problem, McCartney promptly issued a public apology, stating she was “unaware the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people.” According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, she later led a vigil in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.
Honestly, I am of two minds as to whether McCartney really needed to apologize. I obviously disagree that police brutality should be treated solely as a Black issue, even if it is perceived by some as particularly affecting Blacks. But, I also understand that the phrase has been adopted in service of a cause focusing on a particular group, and efforts to adopt a similar but more inclusive phrase could indeed dilute that message. One doesn’t have to fully agree with the message to be sympathetic.
A suggestion, for what it’s worth: Modifying the phrase to “Black Lives Matter, Too” would keep the focus on the Black Community, but it would implicitly acknowledge that non-Black lives are valuable, as well.
However,… since the emphasis is on injustice against Black people and unnecessary deaths of Black people, and they are the ones putting the Black Community in the spotlight, I think it is fair to comment on other aspects of that community in context. Specifically, I would like to see more consistency in the activism on behalf of reducing — even eliminating — unnecessary deaths of Black people due to violence. So, yes, I am going to bring up two very touchy issues that nevertheless deserve attention.
First, there is the issue of black-on-black crime. Yes, I know. Many columnists and commentators have brought this up already. And, yes, many in the Black Community have acknowledged that it is a huge problem, though some will get rather indignant that non-Blacks dare to call attention to it. They also point out — and rightly so — that intraracial violence is not solely a Black problem. Of course, we are not ignoring or minimizing the reality of other intraracial and interracial crimes — white-on-white, white-on-black, black-on-brown, brown-on-white, etc. But, it is disproportionately high among Blacks, given that they make up ~13% of the national population, commit nearly 40% of all homicides (when race of offender is known), and comprise roughly 43.5% of homicide victims, with 90% of these Black homicides being committed by Black offenders. (Based on single victim/single offender homicide numbers provided by FBI for 2013.)
Now, my perception is probably influenced by a) my not being part of the communities in question and b) the recent national attention given to specific examples of white-on-black violence (particularly involving white cops) and the local riots and demonstrations that followed. But, it makes me wonder if the attention given to these types of crimes(?) is also unfairly disproportionate to that given to fighting black-on-black crime. After all, many more Black lives — civilians, cops, and criminals — are lost to other Blacks than are lost to (white) cops. I sincerely hope that those crying “Black Lives Matter” in memory of Michael Brown and others are also lending their voices & efforts to the many local rallies and programs sponsored/hosted by churches, community groups, and, yes, local law enforcement, trying to “clean up the streets” and keep kids in school and away from gangs, drugs, etc. In the end, it takes a dedicated community effort in cooperation with police to make a true and lasting difference. (And guys like Jackson and Sharpton don’t seem too interested in black-on-black crime, ‘cuz it doesn’t fit their agenda.) That phrase the activists are using is a pretty broad statement and can be used to cover a lot of problems & solutions.
And, yes, before you ask, I agree that the past and present policies — local, state, and federal — that have contributed to black-on-black crime and associated conditions must be recognized, discussed, and steps taken to help correct them. (Although, we may disagree on what those steps should be and/or who should take them.) At the same time, I hope that the Black Community will recognize and takes steps to counter the harmful contributions made by certain aspects of “urban culture”, as represented by the hip-hop/rap music glorifying all manner of violent, criminal, and immoral behavior.
The second issue, which I will try to sum up more succinctly, is that of abortion, particularly of Black babies. (Note: This is another reason why many on the socio-political left would be against the phrase “All Lives Matter”.) Other columnists and commentators have brought this up, too, and it is well worth addressing. Did you know that the abortion rate is 5 times higher in the Black Community than among whites? In fact, Ryan Bomberger (who is Black) over at Townhall.com points out, among other things, that 363,705 Black lives are violently slaughtered every year in the name of “reproductive justice”. In comparison, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund touts a list of 76 unarmed, Black individuals who, between 1999 and 2014, have been shot by cops. This averages to roughly 5 per year — not exactly a “massive epidemic”. Each lost life is a tragedy, but clearly abortion is the #1 killer of Black lives, not police brutality. Why aren’t more people upset and marching about this?
With all of that in mind, and assuming the activists want to remain exclusively Afrocentric, what I would love to see is for the catchphrase to change to “ALL Black Lives Matter”, with appropriate national attention added to stopping intraracial violence AND abortion of innocent Black children.
Can I get an “Amen”?