Thursday, July 7, 2016

What You Are Really Saying When You Say, "All Lives Matter"

According to the Huffington Post in an article dated today (Thursday, July 7, 2016), there have been 136 reported deaths of African Americans at the hands of police so far this year.  Of those deaths, several have made headlines for the alleged needless use of excessive and lethal force by the officers involved in the incidents.  Yes, I know it can't be reasonably argued that these cops should be considered representative of all law enforcement individuals.  And, yes, I know this topic has become a hot button issue so the media is perhaps focused on these stories more than it has been in the past.

But, here's the thing: These incidents perpetuate the air of mistrust of cops in general because, frankly, they should.  And, the media should be finding and covering these stories because otherwise there is little to no chance of anything getting done about them.

Without going too far away from the main point I wish to make here, I want to say that I respect the job that law enforcement is expected to do.  It is hard, often thankless, and sometimes dangerous.  Those who do it and do it well have my utmost respect.  But, law enforcement, like any institution, will have those who mishandle and abuse the power and authority given to them.  The problem is that often this abuse means lives are seriously affected and sometimes lost as a result.

Not to be corny, but you need to look no further than a Spider-man comic to know what the problem is here.  Spidey's credo is "With great power comes great responsibility."  Law enforcement agencies quite literally have the legal authority to use force to control and contain those breaking the law or endangering others.  That is an awful lot of power for one institution to have, and it means that there has to be an equal amount of responsibility taken in how that power is used, ranging from hiring and training procedures to consequences for abuses.  And, unfortunately, history doesn't paint a favorable picture of law enforcement on these fronts.

However, I fear I stray too far away from what I want to say here.  I don't want to make an argument on the problems endemic in many law enforcement institutions.  That's a topic far too big to get into in a simple blog.  Instead, I want to focus on the tagline: "All Lives Matter" and what it really means when people use it in response to "Black Lives Matter."

To put it simply, it is passive aggressive racism.  It allows individuals to imply a racist intent without using blatantly racist language by attempting to devalue and undermine the meaning of "Black Lives Matter."  It is retaliatory cross-burning through semantic word play.  Those who pass along the motto need to seriously reflect on their own motivations for doing so because those motivations are undoubtedly rooted in racial prejudices.

And, here's the thing about racism that so many people don't get: you can totally have racist feelings and motivations and not realize you have them.  That's the insidiousness of institutionalized racism.  Does it mean you're evil to the core and offer nothing of value in life?  Not at all.  But, white people in the United States have an obligation to do some extensive self-reflection on the institutionalization of racism and the role we need to play in ending it.  And, part of that role is acknowledging when racial abuses are happening and not undercutting efforts to address those abuses with accusations of "reverse racism" (which, by the way, doesn't exist) or by attempts to circumvent the message with one that inappropriately blankets all as being affected by the problem in the same way.

Even if you believe, as I do, that the vast majority of cops working today are good, decent people trying to do a hard job to the best of their ability, you have to understand that a retaliatory slogan like that stops dialogue at a time when dialogue is sorely needed.  If you are going to the discussion table already making it clear that you don't value what the other side has to say then there is no way trust can be formed and certainly no way for clear-headed thinking to prevail.

Yes, all lives matter.  I believe that with all my being as so many do.  But, our belief in that means we need to honestly and clearly acknowledge when certain lives aren't mattering the way they should.

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