Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Evaluating Black Lives Matter, step 1

So... over on facebook, in the wake of the death of Philandro Castile, I posted on my Facebook timeline a graphic from the Huffington post, which was basically just the phrase "Black Lives Matter" over and over until the bottom, where it says: "It must be said until it's heard."

I wouldn't have thought that this was controversial -- or rather, I would have; but I wouldn't have thought that this should be controversial. I mean, even if you firmly believe that All Lives Matter, clearly Black Lives would, by extension, Matter too... right? It seems fairly clear to me that there's an imbalance in our justice system, where law enforcement is more likely to accost blacks and other minorities; where law enforcement (overall, not necessarily everyone or always) seems to use a very different scale of threat assessment where blacks and other minorities seem are concerned; and where police misconduct, especially in cases involving minorities, is punished far more lightly than it would be for a civilian, and frequently isn't punished at all. My impression is that Black Lives Matter -- either the slogan, or the movement -- is aimed primarily at convincing people that this situation really exists, and needs to stop. Again, not the sort of sentiment that I really expected people to argue with; we may disagree on specifics, but as a general thing we're all pro-Justice, and this seems to me like a pretty clear-cut case.

Instead, within a short time it had escalated to a major argument, which is now in its third day. Admittedly, it's been a fairly civil argument as these things go (note: that is not a high bar, since the usual course of these arguments is to dissolve into name-calling incoherence and wild accusations within the first twenty minutes). Still, I have Facebook friends on both sides -- and, oddly, not some of the people I was expecting -- accusing each other of ignoring the evidence, not supporting their assertions, and generally failing to make a persuasive case for their views. Complicating the issue is an imbalance of numbers, since at the moment I have one person arguing that Black Lives Matter is a dangerous and immoral movement that I shouldn't be supporting... and a fair chunk of the rest of my feed arguing that that isn't true and quite possibly doesn't make sense.

Regardless of the merits of either side, that isn't a comfortable situation, and it isn't likely to promote actual dialogue. It's too easy to get frustrated. It's too easy to pile on.

{And here there was a twenty-minute interruption where I went back to Facebook to look for the links I needed to look at, found that the argument was devolving, and asked everyone to hold off for a bit. We'll see how that works.}

Anyway, here's the first of the anti-Black Lives Matter responses: "Black Lives Matter on their twitter feed are mainly antagonistic toward the police, such as, 'sign the petition to oppose Blue Lives Matter ordinance in Chicago'. Yet, over 60 people were murdered in Chicago over the July 4th weekend, and not one by a cop. This is a ramped up organization that promotes violence against cops, other races and our government. One of their slogans is, 'Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon.' Really?! Also, if you go to their website, you will notice that they are promoting to rebuild the Black Liberation Movement."

So, the first point: antagonistic towards the police. I've started following the official Black Lives Matter feed -- not the hashtag, which could contain anything, not some apparently-related feeds which may or may not share their goals -- and after about thirty-two hours, I'm just not seeing it. Protests, yes; people getting arrested, yes; anti-police or pro-violence messages, no. Signing the petition to oppose Chicago's Blue Lives Matter ordinance doesn't strike me as "anti-police", for somewhat complicated reasons; essentially, the ordinance looks less like it was designed to protect police and other first responders (who are fairly protected already, legally speaking) and more like something that could easily become a legal and financial cudgel to use against protestors and even random citizens.

Over sixty people murdered the weekend, and not one by a cop? I'd have to say that's irrelevant. For one thing, that has nothing to do with the question of whether, among the people who are killed by cops, blacks and other minorities are far more likely to be the victims, and far more likely to be unjust victims. Black Lives Matter isn't making the argument that cops kill people (or kill black people) more than anyone else does. It doesn't appear to be promoting the view that police, on the whole, are the enemy. If they were, this would be a reasonable point.

One of their slogans is "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon." I can't find this anywhere on their website, and I can't find this anywhere on their Twitter feed. Apparently one of the groups at one of the Black Lives Matter protests managed to get themselves on camera while chanting this; but what I'm hearing from people I know who have attended these protests is that this isn't typical, doesn't represent the aims of the official Black Lives Matter movement or the majority of the people involved with the protests. And really, I have no problem whatsoever believing that some media outlet caught a fringe group of protestors chanting this, and blew it way out of proportion. (I don't subscribe to the idea of the "liberal media", but I sure as hell subscribe to the idea of the "profit-driven media".) I'm not surprised that there might be more extreme and violent view hanging around the edges of a call to fight injustice; on the contrary, I'd be surprised if there weren't. But "this is one of their slogans" is simply wrong.

On their website, Black Lives Matter is promoting to rebuild the Black Liberation Movement. This is where it gets a bit more complicated, and a lot more open to political and historical interpretation. The Black Liberation Movement is associated -- or deliberately conflated by its enemies -- with such organizations as the Black Liberation Army, which (if you don't care to follow the link) was a paramilitary, Black nationalist organization back in the 1970s. In the modern, post-9/11 world, they'd almost certainly have been called terrorists. However, there's a political dimension to that as well; I'm also seeing some fairly persuasive arguments that the overall Black Liberation Movement was far larger than just the Black Liberation Army, and included plenty of groups with more peaceful aims and approaches. In this view, the Powers That Be lumped the entire movement together and equated everyone involved with the worst and most violent of its elements.

Strangely, I have no trouble believing that this might well be the case. But even if it isn't, it still isn't unreasonable to assume that at least one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement might legitimately holds to that view. And that ambiguity seems like a very understandable explanation for why the Black Lives Matter websites adds parentheses when it talks about "(re)building the Black Liberation Movement". (The other likely explanation is that they feel that the Black Liberation Movement, overall, never entirely died away. This is not incompatible with the first explanation, and the parentheses may actually be acknowledging both elements of ambiguity. So far, I haven't found any definite statements from any of the movement's founders addressing the topic, but this may be a failure of research on my part.)

Look, this is just one guy trying to sort things out. And I'm a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, moderately-educated, middle-class guy. In other words, I'm trying to evaluate the claims and aims of a group that's addressing a problem that -- by definition -- not only doesn't affect me, but that I essentially never see. When a cop pulls me over, my first thought is never "Am I about to die?" And right now, I have a six-year-old and a ten-year-old who need my attention, and I'm out of time (and, if we're being honest, out of energy) to keep trying to research whether I'm being naively led astray, or whether the objections to the Black Lives Matter movement are mainly specious, if not actively deceptive. So far, I'm not seeing any indication that the Black Lives Matter movement is anything other than what it says it is.

Regardless of everything else, I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the fundamental problem that Black Lives Matter is supposed to be addressing is, y'know, not a real problem. So even if the movement somehow proves to be an issue, the sentiment is, I think, still well-placed. (Remember, "Black Lives Matter" started as hashtag -- as a slogan. It only became a movement later. Even if the movement proves completely corrupt -- and the evidence for that looks really flimsy -- there's still a legitimate issue there.)

So that's all for tonight. There's a mess of other stuff I still need to sort through and look at, but it's going to have to be another post.


  1. Hmmm...

    I have been loosely following your two threads on Facebook. I haven't jumped in because a) I don't have the time to devote to such a debate at the moment and b) I haven't had time to read the entire threads.

    I have noticed that you have a bajillion comments over there and none here. Is that strange? It seems so to me.

    The hubs works with people who, shall I say, have a great influence on how this issue is framed. They wear trucker hats that say, "Make America Great Again!". ;) Anywho, I have tried to explain to him, since he is from another country and isn't familiar with all the nuances of the particular racism that exists here, that the phrase, "Black lives matter," is not racist as his co-workers would have it. Rather, the fact that it has to be pointed out at all that people who have darker skin than ours have value is a problem.

    1. You didn't miss much. (I've temporarily hidden the two comments that set the thing off, because apparently that's the only way to make the conversation die. I may or may not make them visible again later.) Your husband handled himself fine, though -- unless there's something *much* later in the thread that I didn't see, but I'm pretty sure there isn't.

    2. No, no. I'm pretty sure he just let it go. I think he's shellshocked by everything that's happening. He asked me yesterday if things had always been like this in America. He watches the news and is just dumbfounded.


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