Many critics of the Black Lives Matter Movement have tried to paint the movement as anti-police and anti-White-people. Many have called the phrase “Black lives matter” racist and exclusionary. According to them, it says that White lives don’t matter, or the lives of other people of color don’t matter, and “all lives matter” would be a better slogan. So, I want to make two points in regards to what the Black Lives Matter Movement does and does not stand for.
Firstly, the movement is not anti-police or anti-White-people, it is anti-police-brutality and anti-racist-policing. Note the difference. We know that all police officers are not overtly racist, and we know that all police officers are not violent and abusive towards Black people. We recognize that police officers serve a necessary function in society. But we also know that all people – including ourselves – hold unconscious racial biases. Brain research tells us this. And, in situations in which people have to make snap judgments in dealing with persons of a particular racial group, they draw on those biases and readily available stereotypes to make decisions about what to do. Police officers are no different. Unfortunately, this has resulted in differential treatment for Black people in interactions with the police, and research on police trends has shown this as well. Black people are stopped on the street and in their cars, frisked, arrested, incarcerated, and killed at disproportionate rates, at rates that far exceed those for White people, and rates that exceed even what makes sense given our percent contribution to total crime. So we want reforms on policing tactics and accountability for all officers because history has shown that when no one is held accountable for anything they do ever, some officers abuse their authority. Sure, there are people who don’t like the police, or even hate the police, and their minds may never be changed. Sure, there are people at protests who chant and bring signs that say ‘F*ck the police.” Sure, there are people at protests who are prejudiced and don’t like White people at all. But these sentiments do not reflect those felt by the vast majority of the movement’s participants, its organizers, or the official positions articulated by dominant organizing groups. Far from it.
Secondly, we know all lives matter, but all lives aren’t victimized by the police at the same rate. A Black person is killed by the police every 28 hours. That’s not happening to White people. White people aren’t racially profiled. Black people are. Too, Black people and White people have very different experiences within the legal system. As I already mentioned, Black people are arrested and incarcerated at alarming rates, and we often serve longer sentences than White people who commit the same crimes. Our call is not “Black lives matter” because we want to exclude White people or the experiences of other people of color, but because Black people’s history and our present require of us that we affirm our worth. This is not just about the death of one person or the deaths of two people, this is about the deaths of countless unarmed Black people, the hundreds of thousands of Black people whose lives are unjustly and unnecessarily lost to mass incarceration, and a centuries-old history in this country that has seen the constant devaluation of Black lives. And movement supporters who are not Black get that, which is why they join us in our call for justice.
So, we know you matter, too. We only wish you knew the same of us.
Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter, and is an aspiring journalist.