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The Southern Poverty Law Center recently identified White Lives Matter as a hate group. The recently formed and loosely organized group is coalesced around the unsubstantiated belief that reverse racism, undocumented immigrants, and a culture of political correctness threaten the preservation and progress of white people. The fledgling group mobilized in response to the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and promotes the idea that those associated with this racial justice movement are primarily responsible for fueling racial tensions and creating an anti-police culture.
While vitriolic responses to the Movement for Black Lives continue to flourish, one of the most troubling reactions to this burgeoning movement is the rise of #BlueLivesMatter. Elected officials in several states have begun proposing and lobbying for Blue Lives Matter laws. The first state to successfully pass a Blue Lives Matter law was Louisiana. House Bill 953 effectively expanded the state’s existing hate crime statute to include police officers, EMS personnel, and firefighters as a protected class. Typically, hate crimes are crimes in which victims are targeted because of identity-based characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, or gender. Although Louisiana and 36 other states have laws that result in comparatively more severe penalties for violence against police officers, Louisiana made “history” with its move to make a chosen profession a “protected class.” This drastic shift is noteworthy, particularly in a historical moment in which a mass movement has formed to address police brutality against people of color.
High profile events such as the Dallas Massacre and the police killings in Baton Rouge provide Blue Lives Matter proponents with concrete examples of the danger law enforcement face in the line of duty. Efforts to use the tragic events in Dallas and Baton Rouge to denounce the Movement for Black Lives, however, are misguided and inflammatory. And yet, these events have galvanized more politicians to propose Blue Lives Matter bills and led to the racist backlash trumpeted by those supporting Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter. Like White Lives Matter followers, Blue Lives Matter supporters point to the Movement for Black Lives as a source of increased risk for violence against police. Legislators across the country are listening to this outcry. Bills to curb this perceived, increased threat to police officers have been proposed in states such as Illinois, New York, and Kentucky. Each of these bills attaches enhanced sentencing for violent acts against police officers in hopes of deterring those seeking to target police officers.
The growing political support for White Lives Matters and Blues Lives Matter has ironically occurred in a period in which the deaths of police officers in the line duty are down 8% in 2016 compared to previous years. In fact— contrary to criticisms that Black Lives Matter incites violence against cops and what critics perceive as U.S. President Barack Obama's lack of support for law enforcement—police fatalities incurred in the line of duty between 2009 and 2015 are at the lowest levels in more than 30 years. Data collected on police fatalities simply does not show a growing crisis of mortal attacks on law enforcement.
The horrific events in Dallas and Baton Rouge are outliers in a downward trend of police deaths in the line of duty. Furthermore, based upon available information about what occurred in these mass police killings, an under-reported connection exists between the alleged shooters: their status as U.S. military veterans. While we may never fully know their state of mind or the status of their mental health, it is worth considering what role combat PTSD may have played in these incidents. Blaming a movement built upon ending a form of violence disproportionately affecting Black people moves us away from getting at the root cause of police violence.
Although not responsible or accountable for the massacres in Dallas Massacre or Baton Rouge, organizers and leaders within the Movement for Black Lives explicitly condemned these acts as heinous and contradictory to the stated purpose of eliminating violence. There has never been a collective condemnation of the killing of unarmed Black people from police unions or any institution associated with the criminal justice system. Racist policing and police brutality are two of the most visible forms of state violence against Black people—and there is considerable data to prove these forms of anti-Black violence exists.
There has never been a collective condemnation of the killing of unarmed Black people from police unions or any institution associated with the criminal justice system.
The cooptation of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" for Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter by those opposing the Movement for Black Lives and by a national organization of police officers and their supporters epitomizes a willful ignorance about racist policing. Using the “Lives Matter” formulation rallies people wedded to the idea that police are under attack in an unprecedented way. Despite the proven inaccuracy of the claim about an uptick in police deaths in the line of duty, far too many people are buying into the rhetoric of Blue Lives Matter. The bill passed in Louisiana sets a disturbing precedent for new bills that can take us farther away from tackling the issue of Black people being disproportionately killed by police.
The conflation of a principled call for the demilitarization of police and the establishment of community-oriented responses to violence with the actions of a few individuals who targeted police officers is deeply problematic and quite frankly, an erroneous depiction of the efforts of those involved in the Movement for Black Lives. Blue Lives Matter bills are regressive, redundant, and create even more distrust between law enforcement and over-policed, but underserved, communities. If police officers are granted more legal protection and given more latitude in how they engage people, particularly Black people, then we can and should expect the Movement for Black Lives to continue fighting for new ways of policing and a radically different criminal justice system.
NWA once controversially proclaimed, "Fuck tha police" in response to pervasive police brutality. Blue Lives Matter bills sharply punch back with, "Fuck those we are paid to protect and serve."