Since the Black Lives Matter movement developed into a civil rights struggle it has been at the receiving end of criticism, speculation, and hostility- conservative media pundits have hastily come to the conclusion that Black Lives Matter is a hate group. At times, comparisons are made likening the peaceful justice demonstrators, to known hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Our demands as Black Americans to be treated and protected equally under the law is dismissed as hate speech. The direct action used to pressure city leadership, court, and law enforcement officials to hold officers accountable for misconduct is antagonized with the fiery assertion that the only purpose this movement serves is to encourage lawlessness and murder.
This type of rhetoric and fear mongering also seeks to interpret the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist organization that is somehow responsible for the recent influx of crime in major cities as well as the high profiled assaults taken against on-duty officers. These accusations are, of course, without reliable data or information; the movement is scapegoated for a trend with which no corollary information is available. Yet, despite this lack of evidence, the FBI has placed Black Lives Matter movement under heavy scrutiny, putting its activists and sympathizers on a watch list—a type of surveillance that closely resembles the COINTEL surveillance and infiltration program that was used to topple Civil Rights organizations and assassinate Black Power demonstrators in the 60’s and 70’s.
The responses we’ve seen to this peaceful and legitimate movement is quite surprising, given the movement’s actual objectives. In a smaller choice of words, Black Lives Matter activists have stated, “Stop killing us when we’re unarmed and nonthreatening. Stop trafficking our bodies into prison for the same nonviolent offenses white people are equally likely to commit.” Because unarmed black civilians continue to be killed for the most trivial offenses, there is a need to ask troubling questions that a free society must answer: Are trivial offenses reason enough for murder? Moreover, should a trained professional, who is paid by our tax money, kill an unarmed civilian because he/she felt threatened or disrespected?
These are very troubling questions because as of lately we’ve seen almost every excuse to justify the murder of unarmed black youth. This type of violence was deemed necessary for individuals who have run red lights, refused to step out of vehicles, or who have engaged in extended eye contact with an officer. It appears in our free society that so long as a police officer perceives a threat, almost any measure of violence is justified. If an officer fears for his life, gone are all years of training in police academies on how best to dissolve a situation. Professional and appropriate skills seemed to have been forgotten when a Chicago police officer shot Laquan McDonald 16 times from almost 20 feet away. Years of discipline were tossed aside when a New York officer choked the life out of a surrendering Eric Garner. These cases, and many more like them demonstrate a trend of police officers who feel disrespected or threatened and resort to the most damning measure of violence.
What’s more, media pundits spend their days expounding on why they felt an officer’s execution of an unarmed youth might have been reasonable. “He was a threat!” They’ll exclaim. “She had marijuana in her system during the time of the incident.” “He wasn’t following orders, so he had to go.” These rabble-rousers will even go as far as to ponder over the quality of the victim’s home-life by questioning whether or not the father was present in the household or if his/her family was on welfare at the time. Any bit of information, no matter how old, irrelevant, or miniscule, is used to shape an image of a violent individual deserving the worst of our affection. This generation of black citizens has been discouraged from questioning officers or expressing any natural emotions such as anger or frustration. As black citizens, we’ve been told to be mindful of our appearance and the tone of our words—“yes officer,” “no officer,” “I’m on my way home, officer.” We’ve been reminded by our peers and loved ones to seldom question the authority of an officer and to never resist an arrest, no matter how unlawful or unconstitutional it may be.
To engage with a police officer as an equal is taboo in our communities—a taboo that has, often times, resulted in death. This 21st century spin on respectability politics very closely resembles an older time, when our fathers and grandfathers had to take their hats off and bow their heads respectfully in front of white men to avoid punishment during Jim Crow. The level of privilege and power granted to our law enforcement is eerily similar to the power and privilege of a slave master—it was taboo to question their authority. Any quarrel with a slave master (or an officer) can result in instant death with little or no punitive actions taken against the master (or officer). If ever we were to step beyond these respectable boundaries and, in some way or another, threaten the life of an officer than our death will be ruled as justified in the eyes of our peers, the media, and the unbalanced court of law. Heads will be scratched and shoulders will shrug while asking, “What else was the officer supposed to do?” This of course, is a very interesting question. What is an officer to do when he perceives a threat?
That question appears to have been answered during the most recent tragedy in my home state, Colorado—the Planned Parenthood massacre. When a radical right winged shooter made his way to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, he decided to orchestrate what is perhaps the most volatile demonstration against women rights by opening fire on innocent mothers, bystanders, and later, police officers. Between rounds, victims reported they could hear the man murmuring “No more baby parts.” He continued to open fire, intoxicated by a radical right wing ideology, making this incident a terrorist attack. Law enforcement officials later engaged in a crossfire resulting in multiple officer injuries and one casualty at the scene. After a length of time, the armed gunman surrendered, the cops ceased fire, the terrorist was apprehended, and placed into custody alive, where he will eventually live to see his day in court. The police officers courageously involved in this tragedy, acted professionally and appropriately. Despite having the opportunity to kill a surrendering mass murderer, they instead arrested him unharmed.
Other examples reveal a trend with white mass murderers who were apprehended with minimal harm or injury. Earlier this year Dylann Roof slaughtered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. Just hours after his politically motivated attack, he was peacefully arrested, protected by the company of guards and a bullet proof vest, and later, taken to Burger King for a meal. Other incidents- such as the white supremacists who opened fire on a crowed of Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis; the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado; the Sandyhook elementary school massacre; and many other catastrophes involving armed white, and sometimes crazed, militants, have resulted in arrests with minimal to no harm done to the shooter.
Media pundits appear to be sympathetic to the shooter’s history to explain the reason behind the horrific crime. By questioning whether or not he had a mental illness or if he was bullied as a teen, news outlets delicately portray these domestic terrorists as “lone wolf’ individuals who’ve tragically lost grip of themselves under the pressure of antagonizing circumstances from earlier in their lives. Rarely, it seems, do these media hosts question why a mass shooter, who fired rounds at police officers, is still alive and why an unarmed civilian, who only annoyed or disrespected an officer, is not. At times they might reason that the mass shooter needed to go through a due process and that as American citizens we have an obligation to seek the most moral path toward justice. There is a disturbing disparity between the sympathy that is granted to white mass murderers and the impatience and ridicule that is extended to unarmed black murder victims. In one instant the American public and media believe that a brief quarrel or even an emotional exchange in words is befitting for murder, and in another instant will mention that mass murderers were amicably spared because of an obligation to uphold a due process of law.
Never, in our time, has there been a more obvious example of selective justice. When the most upheld values of American society are respected for one group and withheld from another, a civil, moral, and human rights issue lands before our feet. At this time we are faced with a white privilege that must be confronted. With such a privilege white terrorist groups that burn and shoot up churches, bomb NAACP buildings, attack Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Planned Parenthood clinics are able to evade the scrutiny of the FBI while black civil rights organizations are placed under heavy surveillance. With such a privilege white terrorists can take the lives of courageous officers serving in the line of duty while media pundits and law enforcement officials scream “war on cops” every time a peaceful movement demands accountability and fairness. These double standards corrode the morality of this country. If we are to live in a free and just society, where equal protection under the law is an entitled right, our efforts to reform law enforcement, criminal justice, and to dismantle racism are absolutely critical in this moment.