The black community needed to make a statement regarding the continued and repeated killing of innocent, unarmed black people at the hands of the police or others using violence as a result of prejudice, so they began the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t about just Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other one case. It was about the hundreds of unarmed black people killed by police, and more still killed by others, every year, year after year.
Conservatives shot back with “All Lives Matter” and “Cops’ Lives Matter” memes, thinking that they were being righteous and clever: belittle and denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement, while at the same time making it look like the Black Lives Matter movement itself was the one belittling and degrading others. After all, who could argue that the lives of the police, or indeed, all lives don’t matter? How callous and wrong of those black people!
That response by conservatives is, at best, completely missing the point—and, at worst, is at once disingenuous, asinine, and deeply racist in a very fundamental sense.
Why? Simple. Because when people say that Black Lives Matter, they are not talking about the relative worth of the lives of members of any one group compared to any other. They are, instead, making a statement about how people are treated.
When a police officer is killed, under any circumstances, it instantly becomes a significant case. Police begin massive operations to hunt down and capture or kill whomever committed the crime. When the perpetrators are captured, they are punished far more harshly than one would be for killing just about any other person. Meanwhile, the community grieves and shows utmost respect, and very commonly, funerals with auspicious honors are held and attended by hundreds, treating the victim as a hero.
In short, when a police officer dies, the reaction shows that that person’s life mattered to the community, and mattered a great deal. The entire community, and indeed the law itself, reacts in a way as to say, “This person was a fine, honorable person who will be remembered with pride, who sacrificed everything; they will be honored in a special way.” There is no question about whether their lives matter.
However, when an innocent, unarmed black person is killed by police, the response is the exact opposite. Until forced to pay attention only recently, the media ignored such cases. The powers that be refuse to even keep track of the numbers of innocent, unarmed black people killed. The police force closes ranks to protect their own, and investigations almost universally find that the killing was “justified.” The victim, far from being honored, is painted as a villain who deserved death. Every mark on their record is dragged out and exaggerated to play up the idea that the person was obviously a criminal who must have been at fault. The police leak prejudicial information to influence the public’s reaction. The community shuns the victim and their survivors, gives them no respect and no honor.
If the black person was even once arrested for an altercation or a charge of drug possession, that is made to be their identity. And such blemishes are not hard to find in a society whose law enforcement targets black people simply because they are black, and when a prosecution is carried out, it is rigged all too often to force a plea to that effect. In contrast, if the police officer’s report says that the black person “advanced in a hostile and threatening manner,” or that the black person “appeared to have a weapon,” that statement, even without a shred of evidence to back it up, is given every benefit of the doubt—even if it is inconsistent with every other indication in the case.
In short, when an innocent, unarmed black person is killed, the community’s reaction shows that that person’s life did not matter at all, at least not to the community. The system and the law itself gives their killers a nod and a pass, and shows utter disrespect for the victim and their rights. The message is clear: black lives don’t matter.
That is what the Black Lives Matter movement is responding to. Not, as their callous detractors insinuate, that only Black Lives Matter, but that society is committing an injustice when it acts as if their lives do not in any way matter. When no respect is given, no grief is displayed, only the disrespect of blaming the victim for their own death and allowing the killer to walk free.
All lives matter. Everyone knows this.
The point made by the movement does not at all dispute this. It simply points out that our society acts as if the lives of black people matter far less than do others—and the Black Lives Matter movement feels it to be an imperative to point this out as wrong.
The conservative reply, in the true context therefore, is essentially saying, “No, they don’t matter, not as much as other’s lives matter.” But they engineered it look like the victim is the villain, and the villain is the victim.
Aren’t they so clever?