Bill Drake: ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not about better or worse
In her Aug. 1 “Other Voices” column, Elaine Meckler (“It’s not a black-and-white issue”) raised some valid concerns, but the writer misunderstood the purpose of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
One of her points was that “All Lives Matter,” and we shouldn’t “make out any race to be better or more deserving.” Her concern is valid, and I totally agree. However, the intention of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan is not to say black lives matter more, but that black lives matter just as much as white lives and the lives of other races.
In an article about the slogan, “All Lives Matter,” African American writer Donna Brazile notes that black deaths, including at the hands of those police who seriously abuse their authority, are not taken as seriously in our society as deaths of whites. Brazile agrees that all lives matter, but writes, “(W)hen someone says ALL lives matter, it can sound like that person is dismissing the specific pain behind the (‘Black Lives Matter’) slogan.” That pain comes from seeing such recent videos as that of a law officer shooting a black man in the back and appearing to plant a weapon next to the body. Were it not for that video, the murder might have gone unquestioned due to the officer’s falsifying his report.
As Ms. Meckler rightly points out, whatever violence occurs within black communities should be a matter of concern, but that does not negate the importance of also being concerned about undue police violence towards blacks. These are two different issues.
I am not suggesting all, or even most, law officials abuse their authority, but it is clear to me that some do. One possible factor that has to be considered when a white officer abuses his (or her) authority with a black person is conscious or unconscious bias or racism. In an experiment in Denver, police officers and members of the community were presented photos of both black and white men with objects that were either a gun or something harmless like a wallet. For each picture the participant had to quickly select a “shoot” or “don’t shoot” button. The officers were better at deciding whether or not the subject was armed, but the test results demonstrated a bias against the black men.
In February, FBI director James Comely gave a speech at Georgetown University. While expressing well deserved gratitude toward law enforcement officers and the risks they take, Comely also acknowledged that there are biases within law enforcement. As reported in the New York Times (Nov. 21, 2014), a Durham, NC coalition of community members presented to their police department data showing that “Durham police searched black male motorists at more than twice the rate of white males during stops. Drugs and other illicit material were found no more often on blacks.” Confronted with the evidence, the police department changed some of its policies.
The justice department’s March report on police tactics in Ferguson, MO, concluded that the city unfairly targeted African Americans for tickets and arrests. In St. Louis, over many years, poor blacks were jailed for being unable to pay a traffic fine. (The St. Louis Tea Party coalition joined the ACLU in supporting a measure before the state assembly to stop this practice.) These are just a few examples. The point is not to attack our police departments but to change policies that unfairly target blacks, to find ways to weed out officers who are likely to abuse their authority, and to train the remainder to guard against unconscious biases.
Ms. Meckler’s article had a beautiful conclusion. As she said, we need to “all work together to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, creed, or color has the same opportunity….” A part of doing that is seeing that black lives matter just as much as other lives and working to counter racism where it exists in our society, in our community, and in ourselves.
Bill Drake lives in Nevada City. He co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias, an organization that endeavors to help Nevada County become an empowered community that supports and honors diversity. He is the author of “Almost Hereditary, A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide to Unlearning and Healing Prejudice.” His website is http://www.healracism.com.
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