It shouldn’t need to be said that Black lives matter. If, in the US, all men (and women) are created equal, then it should be a given that Black people’s lives hold just as much value as any other life in this country. However, it seems that with each passing week it’s becoming more and more evident to the public eye that this isn’t the case.
With the murder of Mike Brown – and the subsequent actions by police after – many in Ferguson, Missouri were fed up and decided to take action. Soon after, other cities joined in protest, adding the names of those who had been killed in each location to a long list of Black and Brown people who’d been killed in recent months and years, including Eric Garner’s. All of them by the police who are supposed to serve and protect them.
Yet it seems that many people think that acknowledging the value of Black life — i.e. that #BlackLivesMatter — is in opposition to the lives of the police. That they are somehow mutually exclusive. In many places “pro-police” counter-protests have popped up with the slogan “Blue Lives Matter.”
The NYPD even went on an unofficial protest after they were upset to hear that Mayor Bill de Blasio advised his son (who is Black/biracial) to be careful in his interactions with the police. They say de Blasio teaching his son this fuels distrust in the police and could endanger their lives — and that it indirectly leads to incidents like the shooting of the two NYPD officers that happened in December.
In protest, they stopped making minor arrests, and began instead to make arrests or issue summonses only when absolutely necessary, meaning things like parking violations won’t result in confrontations with police. It also potentially means no Stop-And-Frisk, which Mayor de Blasio hadn’t ended completely, despite that being a central campaign promise.
It seems odd (read: racist) that the idea of valuing Black life is automatically thought of as devaluing the lives of police officers. It seems odder still that while police counter the main protests with the contention that “Blue Lives Matter,” they ignore the fact that many Black police officers – who should also count as “Blue” lives – often feel the brunt of racial profiling done by their own co-workers.
In an additional irony, in their counter-protest, the NYPD seems to have forgotten that Eric Garner’s death resulted from an unnecessary arrest for a minor purported violation. Garner was approached by the NYPD for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, which certainly didn’t warrant the use of force in the attempted arrest. So perhaps this unofficial protest has done more good than the harm they expected. Either way, when people say “Black Lives Matter” what they mean is Black lives matter. They don’t mean that anyone else’s lives matter less. Hopefully soon police forces across the country will realize this too.
Police Chiefs in at least two cities seem to recognize the meaning behind these protests. In Nashville, Police Chief Steve Anderson responded to a message left on the police departments website challenging the commenter’s idea of what constitutes a the city being safe, and expressing respect for the rights of the protesters in Nashville. In Pittsburgh, Police Chief Cameron McLay showed his support for protesters with a sign pledging to “challenge racism at work.” Both are White.
In the latter case, the response to this chief’s display of solidarity with the community has gotten negative attention from the president of the police union in Pittsburgh who says the chief’s stance makes the police force look “corrupt and racist.” Chief McLay stood by the message on the sign.
Whether they realize it or not, some police seem to have stumbled onto the solution to their constant and fatal confrontations with Black people. When people are treated as people and not criminals, crime rates don’t increase, even as the people are policed less. When protesters are treated with respect, there is less likely to be a violent confrontation between them and the police. When Black lives are given the value they deserve, the relationship between them and the police improves.