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Despite zero evidence that the perpetrators of a kidnapping and assault that was live streamed on Facebook Tuesday were affiliated with Black Lives Matter, #BLMKidnapping became a trending topic on Twitter this week. While the hashtag, created and promoted by white supremacist trolls, may seem like just a blip on the social media landscape, it illuminates a more sinister tendency within America to distract from black protest with the threat of violent crime.
In a 30-minute video, which made the rounds Thursday, four young people—who are all black—can be seen beating, cutting, and berating a mentally-impaired young white man. The four assailants, all residents of the Chicago area, were arrested Thursday and charged with aggravated kidnapping, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. For its part, the Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter issued a statement Wednesday via its Facebook page condemning the violent attack and calling for “restoration, healing and justice.” That hasn’t stopped the likes of Glenn Beck and Richard Spencer from somehow linking incident to Black Lives Matter.
It should go without saying, but the thinking that produced a hashtag like #BLMKidnapping is in no way similar to the thought process that leads criminal legal reform advocates to target policing.
The thought process that links the actions of four young people who happen to be black to the Black Lives Matter movement is the same that explains away spikes in crime in some American cities to black protest. It’s a logic that allows a great deal of Americans, politicians in particular, to extrapolate the violence that exists in a city like Chicago onto the whole country and our nation’s black communities. Ultimately, it is racist logic that takes as a premise that black Americans are fundamentally criminal, violent, and in need of white control—or, as so many have put it, “law and order.”
It should go without saying, but the thinking that produced a hashtag like #BLMKidnapping is in no way similar to the thought process that leads criminal legal reform advocates to target policing. First, policing—unlike black skin and the movement for black lives—is an organized institution. There are, in fact, unions as well as funding and training networks that bind police officers together across the country in philosophy, policies, and practices—all of which produce disproportionate rates of stops, searches, assaults, and deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. Despite what the folks at Breitbart may say, there is no similar organized body of armed blacks empowered by the state to search, seize and kill other Americans with impunity.
The people who trade in the racist propaganda that produced #BLMKidnapping are hedging their bets on the lower angels of white America in this moment.
Facts, or a lack of them, don’t seem likely to stop those who trade in anti-black fearmongering, however. Those people are less interested in the complex reality of our society than they are the fantasies of white supremacy and innocence that justify American systems of control, oppression, power, and privilege. For that cause and no other are they able to conjure a Black Lives Matter-inspired kidnapping that mainstream media refuses to cover and that President Obama should denounce out of an isolated—albeit horrendous—hate crime for which four people have already been arrested.
The people who trade in the racist propaganda that produced #BLMKidnapping are hedging their bets on the lower angels of white America in this moment. They’re wagering that white Americans are still so uncomfortable with black protest and black people that they'll see the video of a mentally disabled white man being tortured by black people screaming “fuck Trump” and “fuck white people” and lose their appetite for social justice.
It's a pretty safe bet given the history of this country.
Black social progress has been halted throughout American history, not because black people lost our desire for freedom and equity but because our white allies did out of discomfort and fear. Indeed, American history is marked with examples of the threat of black criminality trotted out to stymie social progress. The threat of black sexual violence was used to interrupt Reconstruction and impose Jim Crow. The threat of looting and lawlessness helped end the Civil Rights Movement and usher in a period of “law and order.” In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the threat of crack-fueled gang violence allowed the government to defund social programs and invest in a system of mass incarceration.
To be sure, the Black Lives Matter movement has upset the racial dynamic in the United States primarily by naming it and demanding changes that center the lives of black Americans. This is something that has made many white Americans more uncomfortable and angry than they care to admit and it seems that for them the efforts of Black Lives Matter are crimes tantamount to supporting kidnapping and torture.