Black Lives Matter, In Reality

The Black Lives Matter Movement is founded on a true and well-documented premise: young African-Americans are disproportionately gunned down by law enforcement. The breadth of crime statistics have long supported this notion, showing that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white counterparts. There is also evidence that black victims of police shootings are more likely to be unarmed. In 2015 alone, a staggering 32% of black people killed by police were unarmed, compared to only 15% of white people killed by police.Despite the evidence, the Black Lives Matter movement- and the very need for such a movement- remains a controversial topic.

Some critics of Black Lives Matter outright refuse to acknowledge that law enforcement may be prone to racial bias. These people instead imagine that we live in a post-racial society, where race could not play a factor in a cop’s decision making. Such a viewpoint is incredibly naive in light of our country’s long history with racially-biased law enforcement.These people are probably the minority of Black Lives Matter Movement’s critics.

The majority consist of those who make an even more damaging argument. They contend that activists should concern themselves with the high homicide rates in urban inner cities, rather than issues of police brutality. People making this argument attempt to use urban violence as justification for police brutality. Their argument is the equivalent of saying, “You should not care if police kill you, because you kill each other anyway”.

A quote from a recent opinion piece, titled “Black Lives Matter– but Reality Not So Much”  explains the idea more fully:

The reality is that the Michael Browns are a much bigger threat to black lives than are the police. “Every year, the casualty count of black-on-black crime is twice that of the death toll of 9/11,” wrote former New York City police detective Edward Conlon in a Journal essay on Saturday. “I don’t understand how a movement called ‘Black Lives Matter’ can ignore the leading cause of death among young black men in the U.S., which is homicide by their peers.”

This argument, quoted and advanced by author Jason L. Riley, is entirely unreasonable. Firstly, people are working to curb the homicide rates in the black community. Leader and activist Rev. Al Sharpton just recently travelled to Chicago to speak about the intolerable levels of violence. He has spoken out against street violence for years, and often visits local communities around the country. He is just one of many Black activists working on this issue. There are community groups dedicated to stopping urban violence in almost every major American city. Notwithstanding these efforts, there are clear differences between inner-city violence and police brutality.

When a black person kills another black person, they are sentenced to prison for the crime. There is no breakdown in the justice system attributed to freeing young black murderers. The same cannot be said for white police officers who kill unarmed black citizens. We can discuss the social ills of urban violence, but we need to separately address the systemic injustice that isolates police officers from prosecution and conviction.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, we should actually openly hold police officers to a higher standard than the one to which we hold ordinary people. An ordinary person, living in an environment that is violent, poor, and abject of hope, may unfortunately fall victim to the lure of crime, or the senselessness of committing gun violence. This is not inevitably true, but it remains a fact in our current world. But a police officer, trained and acting in his duty under government authority, should follow the law at all times. In other words, a police officer cannot use the negative behaviors of the environment he patrols to justify his own missteps. And neither should we.

In his post, Riley facetiously says, “It’s about holding whites to a higher standard than the young black men in these neighborhoods hold each other to.” He should clarify to say, white police officers. This is not an unreasonable proposition. Yes, we should absolutely hold white police officers to a higher standard than the young urban poor– those same people whose behavior we are bemoaning.

This is not to say that Black Lives Matter is the perfect movement. It lacks central leadership, the legislative power of past social movements, and it may be too focused on social media. But you cannot argue with its basic premise: all people, including black people, deserve to not have their lives unnecessarily taken by the police. This is simply a human right.

The key issues here are justice and accountability. When you have multiple cops firing hundreds of rounds into an unarmed person’s car, someone should face consequences. When you have a 12 year old boy shot by a cop while playing at the park, someone should face consequences. And these are just two examples from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, in recent years. If cops were actually held accountable for using excessive force, I imagine that police brutality would be a far less pervasive issue.

The tragic events that we read about in the news, like the deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Oscar Grant, happen everyday in neighborhoods across the country. Accepting that this injustice exists, and refusing to continue making excuses for it to keep happening, are the first steps toward creating positive change. Black Lives Matter has brought attention to an ugly and unjust truth about our country. The only way to stop the long pattern of police brutality against African-Americans is to finally hold police officers accountable when they use unreasonable force.

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4 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter, In Reality

  1. I completely agree with the necessity of this campaign. While some people may criticize the movement, stating that All Lives Matter, that is exactly what the people behind this movement are gunning for, they want a sense of autonomy among the American community, so that they feel like the justice they want is in deed felt as necessary by the majority of Americans. This campaign needs to be acknowledged and implemented in some way, because there is such a lack of equality in the justice system, and black lives have been literally locked away and lost over this lack of recognition that Black Lives DO Matter. I agree that the structure of the campaign is weak as far as legislative possibilities, and that they do rely too heavily on social media, but there is power in social media, and it seems to me that the use of media is just the beginning of tapping into the power behind this movement. There is power in public opinion and this social media support can help build this movement into something that can be put into action in the courts.

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  2. I want to first comment on your excellent post and even more impressive presentation. While I do find Jason L. Riley’s comment and statistics to be interesting and absolutely shocking, I absolutely agree with your response to it. The issue with black-on-black crime, to me, is completely unrelated to the issue of police brutality. That is like saying we should ignore police brutality on African Americans because more are killed by Cancer every year; the two are unrelated and the argument is void. While black-on-black crime does seem to be a more massive issue than I ever would have expected, it is a completely separate problem that we need to as a country tackle, and it seems as though according to your knowledge there are already efforts in place. I also want to comment on your suggestion of holding police officers to a higher standard: isn’t that OBVIOUS? of course we should hold police officers to a higher standard, they are the individuals who are supposed to be protecting us. That is what they are paid to do. While I commend all that you wrote and agree with nearly absolutely every claim and stance you have shared, I do remember you saying that this issue isn’t currently discussed enough and that is the only difference I have. I do believe that this issue is being given a great amount of attention in communities, the press, and politics just as it deserves. It is just about continuing this and educating younger educations to make improvements in the future.

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  3. I could not agree more that police officers should be held more accountable; however, I do take some issue with your statement that white officers in particular should be held more accountable. Yes, the issue has mainly been with white cops and black citizens, but I think that if we are trying to reduce racism, all cops, despite their race, need to be held more accountable.

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