The Black Lives Matter Campaign has been in the media now for some time, and it’s surprising to see how polarizing this movement has been. Just the other day a news host asked why it wasn’t classified as a hate group. If you were to show news clippings surrounding the movement and ask me to identify the time period I would say without hesitation they must come from the 60’s. The sadder, more awful truth is that this is very much a real and vibrant movement by the Black community following the trial of George Zimmerman in 2013. The initial movement has all the beginnings of a great activist movement. Three black females who wish to bring awareness of the continued oppression and unjust treatment of the black community within our society. Although the official movement did not endorse the riots, most famously occurring in Ferguson, many believe the group as the responsible party.
One of the most poignant complaints against the Black Lives Matter movement is the belief that it somehow minimizes the loss or injustice felt by another group. In addition, some feel that remaining as Black Lives Matter, might be seen as excluding others who wish to participate or have encountered similar issues. Just recently, a rally for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was overrun by individuals claiming to represent the movement, effectively shutting down the political gathering and creating an air of hostility. Sanders, no stranger to the civil rights cause, conceded the stage easily, but the head of the movements were quick to note these individuals do not uphold the beliefs and methods they wish to portray as it’s those behaviors that undermine the legitimacy and promise of the organization.
I’ll admit, I too struggle with the idea that we limit ourselves by further factioning into groups. In a perfect world, all lives do matter and we should stand behind that slogan. The trouble, is this is far from a perfect world, and the primary concern should be to fight against the cognitive dissonance that allows many of us to distance ourselves from the reality that in almost every area of life, the system works against minorities, people of color, women, etc. To go against the movement under the guise that by acknowledging that black lives matter, and have not been treated equally somehow means that other lives are not important is simply petty. I can’t tell you how many times someone wants to bring up some obscure family or friend relation who works in law enforcement, or has history of involvement working with dangerous populations and throw out the claim “well aren’t they important?” Yes, they are, very much so. And we all have loved ones in those situations. Social workers may even realize they fall under that category too. The difference is that no one denies that they are important. The difference is the equality of how they are treated in the eyes of society, and in the eyes of the law.
We know, not even hypothesize, but know that black individuals are treated differently within our justice system. The are more likely to by pulled over, arrested for less offenses, and receive longer sentencing than white counterparts. And many have speculated that the use of excessive force increases. In experiments with blind auditions or justice, that is, the person in question is not seen and demographic information is not known, race and gender no longer play a role. But our justice system requires that a person faces the accuser and must present to court. And to clarify, I’m not saying that justifiable shootings don’t happen all over with every race. If a weapon was drawn to police officers that is a highly dangerous situation. One that they try very hard to deescalate, but the risk is there. This constant bickering over anecdotal stories that are more likely to fall under a legitimate incident is counter-productive and has no basis in a broader perspective. The brave men and women of our police force have a hazardous job, and unfortunately, have seen a increase in felonious deaths over the past several years. For instance, the 2013 breakdown had 27 felonious deaths(meaning the officer who died in the line of duty did so due to an attack against them) across the country, the large majority occurring in the south. In 2014, 51 officers lost their lives in this nature. In almost every single one of these instances, firearms were involved.
We have this data because we keep careful track of these men and women and the risk they put themselves in every day. We value their lives and their safety. On the other side, we can’t accurately estimate the number of deaths of unarmed individuals by the police because only what is classified as justifiable deaths are tracked. On that count, there are roughly 400 per year , but organizations attempting to compile evidence through local news sources and social media pages estimate it at almost 3x that amount. And of course, theses losses include individuals of all races, genders, and religions. What Black Lives Matters is doing is breaking down the cognitive dissonance, because once that happens things cannot go back to the way they were. The turn of civil rights doesn’t happen on a dime. Historically, we do not grant wide sweeping measures when society realizes that actions must occur. We build it, brick by brick until a solid foundation arises.
I’ll leave it with this, Black Lives Matter is a movement of importance, and that the very founders have said they want to open to others who have had that discrimination. The key is that we cannot cut them off before it has the opportunity to do so. They’re not forgetting about anyone, they are not forgetting that black on black crime causes an intolerable amount of deaths, but first they have to ensure we believe that what they say is important. By claiming we won’t hear you unless you speak for everyone we further the injustice. We effectively say “you don’t matter” when what we should be doing is our fundamental training. Listening. I have great hopes for the continued evolution of Black Lives Matter. And look forward to the day when we can say with certainty: All Lives Matter.
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