Until the Promise of All Lives Matter Is Fulfilled, We Must Assert That Black Lives Matter

If we truly thought that all lives mattered, we wouldn't so blithely accept racial disparities in law enforcement’s use of force.

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Complex Original

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In 1963, in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Malcolm X was suspended from the Nation of Islam by its leader, Elijah Muhammad, for appearing to cheer the the killing. In a press conference, Malcolm said that JFK “never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon,” referring to the CIA-sponsored assassinations of the president of South Vietnam and his brother. After Malcolm’s suspension was lifted (he would leave the Nation of Islam soon after), he clarified and expanded his “chickens coming home to roost” analogy, calling JFK’s assassination “the result of a climate of hate.” His point was simple and in hindsight hardly controversial: In a country where two months prior four children had been killed in a church bombing, in a country where five months prior Medgar Evers had been shot to death in his driveway, in a country where police were regularly training fire hoses on marching teenagers, it was perhaps not entirely surprising that the atmosphere of violence might reach any part of society.

The unequivocally tragic and senseless murders of five Dallas police officers last week occurred one block from Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was assassinated; the shooter apparently used an elevated perch to pick off the officers. It’s hard not to feel this climate of hate and violence that Malcolm X spoke of in the '60s permeating America today. The presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties clearly relishes the atmosphere of violence that often accompanies his public appearances. In Texas, gun rights advocates regularly stage open-carry demonstrations in which they brandish assault weapons in otherwise peaceful public gatherings—including the protest that preceded Thursday night’s attack.

#BlackLivesMatter calls efforts to blame activists for DallasPoliceShooting "dangerous": https://t.co/bcMbJvlQ9R pic.twitter.com/XTg03dwQbI

The reaction to Thursday’s attack began with near universal expressions of grief, followed very closely by a rhetorical attack on Black Lives Matter, a loose, decentralized movement birthed in reaction to numerous deaths of black civilians at the hands of police in the past few years. On Friday morning, the Dallas police chief described hostage conversations with the alleged shooter in the police killings who said “that he was upset about Black Lives Matter.”

Almost immediately, high-profile attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement began. Former Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted, “Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”; Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick blamed Black Lives Matter for the Dallas shooting and even called protesters hypocrites for expecting police protection. On Sunday morning, Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York (“America’s mayor” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks) called the Black Lives Matter movement anti-American, saying, “When you say black lives matter, that's inherently racist. White lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter.”

If we truly thought that all lives mattered, we would not so blithely accept these disparities in law enforcement’s use of force between white people and black people.

But in America, it would appear that some lives matter more than others. In the days since the tragedy in Dallas, two reports were issued that seek to quantify the broken relationship between law enforcement and the black community. On Friday, New York-based think tank Center for Policing Equality published a study of more than 19,000 incidents spanning five years and concluded that the use of police force against African-Americans is more than three times greater than it is for whites. On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper concluding that “on non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police.” The study also found that black men and women are more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, “even after accounting for how, where, and when they encounter the police,” The New York Times reports.

If we truly thought that all lives mattered, we would not so blithely accept these disparities in law enforcement’s use of force between white people and black people.

The premise of the Black Lives Matter movement is not that black lives matter more than anyone else’s; it’s that black lives matter as much as anyone else’s. This is not a radical, racist concept, and we should assert it vociferously. Only then will “all live matters” become more than just an empty, reactionary slogan.

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