In the Tuesday’s Argus, Bryan Stascavage argues that the Black Lives Matter movement is responsible for the murder of innocent police officers. Stascavage made points such as, “Police officers… have been targeted and gunned down…Good officers…go to work every day… worried that they won’t come home.” The irony of this statement appears to be lost on Stascavage: many black citizens in this country feel the exact same way, but unlike police officers, they have felt this way throughout American history, from slavery, to the violent upheaval against civil rights movements in the 1950s-1960s (see the Little Rock Nine and Selma to Montgomery marches, if you need evidence) to the near-constant police brutality in this country. While police officers in this country have plenty of reason to fear violence towards them, including on account of recent events, this argument is, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, hate creating hate. By claiming an oppressed group’s righteous and justified demands are a form of oppressing the non-oppressed, violence from both sides will increase and continue while no progress is made.
Ironically, it was Hillary Clinton, the democratic presidential nominee who, at her first public appearance after the Charleston Church shooting stated “All lives matter” (Tamara Keith, NPR), essentially choosing to ignore the major issue at hand, is the politician with the best rhetorical strategy to combat institutionalized racism: “…you [don’t] change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate,” Hilary Clinton told a group of BLM activists. “You’re not going to change every heart…But at the end of the day we could do a whole lot more to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve them to have them…” (Dan Merica, CNN). Her rhetoric is sound, and theoretically she understands the best approach to tackling police brutality. However, she, like many of the presidential nominees from both parties, has no concrete plans to stop police brutality and seemingly no motivation to create any.
But perhaps most frighteningly, Mr. Stascavage’s article, as well as Mrs. Clinton’s inaction towards racial policy, suggest that indifference and denial of racism is still alive and well in this country. One of the biggest responses to the BLM movement at its inception (and a response still currently used) is that “you can’t say only black lives matter”. This is of course a perfect example of causal racism, the argument that black people in this country cannot have problems that are different or separate from the problems of white people. The movement was created to raise awareness to the fact that black lives matter (which should be obvious, but apparently is not), but instead many seemed to believe that the group was either targeting white people, or was racist for excluding them. Both are far from the truth, as perfectly summed up by the internet’s retaliatory argument “Nobody at an AIDS awareness rally would say ‘other diseases matter too’”.
But perhaps worst of all is the fact that exceptionally few 2016 Presidential nominees have any plans for dismantling police brutality, including Bernie Sanders, who only did so after BLM protestors shut down a rally of his in Seattle. The crowd booed the protestors, and many internet commentators criticized them for choosing to shut down Mr. Sanders, claiming that his history of fighting for civil rights (such as being arrested in 1962 for protesting school segregation) meant he was an unfair target and therefore did not deserve such criticism (Dan Merica, CNN and Zaid Jilani, Alternet). However, this argument is similar to that of “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend”: it does not mean you cannot commit acts of racism, nor does it mean you should be free from criticism. Mr. Sanders record of protesting for civil rights is outstanding: but he, like the rest of 2016’s presidential candidates, was not doing anything to end police brutality, and no amount of previous experience as a civil rights activist could make up for this fact.
Even Mr. Sanders plans for dismantling police brutality, as taken from his campaign website, are fairly broad, stating that police officers should be “trained to de-escalate” and ensuring “federal resources are there to crack down on the illegal activities of hate groups”. The broad nature of these plans are understandable, given that it is still very early in the campaign season and is used primarily as advertisement towards Mr. Sander’s campaign, but considering he is the only nominee with police brutality plans in place, its hard not to be disappointed and worried.
Mr. Stascavage ends his article stating, “Is this all worth it? Is it worth another riot… another death, another massacre? At what point will Black Lives Matter go back to the drawing table and rethink how they are approaching the problem?” Violence and brutality towards black people existed well before the BLM movement rallying to raise awareness, which may have indirectly led to some police officer deaths. But more importantly, the sole responsibility of granting equal rights and respect to the oppressed in this country should not be put on the shoulders of a movement, but instead the organization who make the bold claim that “All men are created equal” yet refuses to implement this important belief.
It’s about time for congress to go back to the drawing table.
Spiro is a member of the Class of 2019.