Chin: BLM, A Message of Unity

by Clara Chin | 7/21/16 6:00pm

In the last few weeks, four police-related shootings received national attention. In Texas, Micah Xavier Johnson killed five police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest. In Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot an African-American man, Philando Castile. Two police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, shot an African-American man, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA. More recently, Gavin Long killed two white policemen. Jinsung Bach ‘17’s July 15 column “A Bloody Reputation,” highlighted the recent deaths of police officials and linked them to the Black Lives Matter movement. He posits that, because of the recent shootings of police officials, the entire Black Lives Matter movement has lost all credibility.

Each death is a tragedy, but it is wrong to take advantage of national sadness to turn our backs on Black Lives Matter. The attacks serve as a solemn reminder that violence against police officers should be verbally disavowed and discouraged and that leaders should stress the importance of unity, as public officials including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have both done. Bach argues that Black Lives Matter is a violent group posing as a peaceful one. In actuality, Black Lives Matter continues to sustain a message of unity, not aggression. It is possible to simultaneously mourn the deaths of these police officers while remembering Black Lives Matters’s overall message is a plea for necessary justice and unity.

First of all, no evidence links the civilian shooters, Johnson and Long, to Black Lives Matter. While they certainly acted in response to recent events and spoke out about police brutality, their hatred does not represent the official movement. The ease with which we conflate their murderous acts with the nature of Black Lives Matter furthermore demonstrates racial profiling and stereotypes. In addition, regardless of the two men’s lack of affiliation, social movements are never monolithic. During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated peaceful protest while Malcom X initially advocated change “by any means necessary.” In the case of Black Lives Matter, generalizing is not just impossible, but dangerous. Generalizations about Black Lives Matter mirror Donald Trump’s Islamophobic stance on Muslims. In a recent interview following the commencement of the Republican National Convention, Trump commenting on Black Lives Matter said, “You see them marching and you see them on occasion, at least, I have seen it, where they are essentially calling death to the police.” Convenient sweeping generalizations based on the actions of some radical members of a diverse social movement are anti-intellectual, unscholarly, and lead to misconceptions and discrimination against the group as whole.

The truth is that Black Lives Matter as a whole has remained peaceful. Since the shootings, the movement has held vigils supporting civilians and police officials killed. Black Lives Matter demonstrations often feature marches, poetry, prayer and speeches. The movement has created unlikely allies. Two warring gangs, the Bloods and Crips, convened peacefully with Snoop Dogg’s leadership to support the movement. United towards a common cause, they called for protesters to remain peaceful and guarded stores to prevent looting. As far as unlikely political allies go, Republicans like Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich praised Obama’s speech and seem receptive to the message of Black Lives Matter. “It’s more dangerous to be black in America,” Gingrich said. “You’re substantially more likely to be in a situation where police don’t respect you.”

The message of Black Lives Matter requires time and resources. Rejecting and dismissing Black Lives Matter because of the most sensationalized actions of a few radical followers frees us from thinking about complicated issues, including race and gun violence. To further complicate the matter, one of the policemen shot was African-American. Just days before his death, he posted, “In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”

While divisions are possible, unity is necessary, not just amongst African-Americans or protestors. Police brutality against black men is not about white police versus black civilians. Bach argues that Black Lives Matter is a collective consciousness of hatred. And while sweeping blanket statements cannot fully capture the complexity of such a large social movement, Black Lives Matter as a whole tends to be peaceful, even unifying unlikely enemies. Not all strands of Black Lives Matter are as unifying as gang peace initiatives, but Americans can control the narrative by rising beyond the simplicity of choosing “sides.” Instead of using the recent killings of police officers to reject Black Lives Matter at its worst, it can be a moment to mourn together — a moment that shows that, for the sake of everyone, the need for change and unity is unquestionable.