Why ‘Black Lives’ & ‘Blue Lives’ should matter to all of us
By Robert Foreman
The volatile mixture of race and incidents of police brutality has long been a subject of contention in America. Many people have their own entrenched views on the matter and will not be swayed either way. Most African-Americans see the issue of police brutality as an ongoing threat to our community. On the other hand, there are many in law enforcement who believe that there is an ongoing bias against members of their profession who are just doing their jobs. The growing tensions have resulted in the birth of two movements; “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” Each of these movements has inspired both support and controversy among the public and lawmakers.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement was born following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed Martin, who was 17, during an altercation. Other high-profile incidents involving unarmed African-Americans who were killed during encounters with police officers continued to galvanize the movement. Some view Black Lives Matter as shining a light on issues of police misconduct. Others have branded Black Lives Matter as racist and have countered with “all lives matter.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I have had to debate with people regarding Black Lives Matter. What I try to explain to them is that if one black person kills another black person under circumstances that aren’t self-defense, then that black person who did the killing is likely going to jail for murder or manslaughter. On the other hand, if a rogue officer, or non-black citizen like Zimmerman, kills a black person under circumstances that aren’t self-defense, then they likely aren’t going to go to jail for murder or manslaughter. So, Black Lives Matter isn’t claiming that black lives matter more than any other racial group. It’s stating that black lives should matter just as much as everyone else’s under the eyes of the justice system.
The Blue Lives Matter movement was born in 2014 following the deaths of Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu. Both on-duty NYPD officers were shot and killed by Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley. The shootings were Brinkley’s revenge for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, who were both killed during encounters with the police. Blue Lives Matter grew out of the frustration that some in law enforcement saw as a bias toward law enforcement and was a response to Black Lives Matter. The advocates of Blue Lives Matter firmly believe that the killing of a law enforcement officer should fall under the hate crime statutes once a prosecution and conviction have occurred. Only one state, Louisiana, has made it a hate crime to target law enforcement personnel, EMTs and firefighters. The Louisiana law has been met with controversy by those who believe that someone’s job occupation should not get the same hate crime protections as race and gender.
I have friends who are both current and former law enforcement and I’ve always found them to be dedicated to the oath they swore to “protect and serve.” They would express their frustration to me about being branded a racist when they had a legitimate reason to stop or detain someone of color. However, some of them understood that there were incidents where some of their brethren did cross a line, yet they understandably did not want to be lumped in with the actions of others.
Ironically, both African-Americans and law enforcement personnel find themselves in similar predicaments. Each is unfairly judged by the actions of a few. Law-abiding African-Americans complain that they find themselves being treated as criminals by some members of law enforcement simply because of other African-Americans who do commit criminal acts. Many law enforcement personnel complain that they are being branded as racists by the African-American community, and the media, simply because of the actions of some of their brothers and sisters in blue who have acted in an unprofessional manner in high-profile incidents.
In the end, people should be judged by their own actions and not by the actions of those who have the same skin color or wear the same uniform. No race or profession should be unfairly painted with a broad brush as being either all good or all bad. Unfortunately, we live in a society where many people find it easier play the blame game instead of trying to have open and honest discussions about the issues at hand. Both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements have given some people a real opportunity to discuss the issues, while other people have used both movements as a way to create more division and animosity to suit their agenda.
Regardless of how people choose to view Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, one thing is crystal clear. All lives do matter, whether they are black, white, brown, yellow or make their living in law enforcement. There should be no debate over which life matters more. Now, that’s no politically correct bumper sticker or social media hashtag. It’s just a statement of fact. Because once we start trying to decide which life has more value based on race or profession, we begin to lose sight of our common humanity. Once we go down that road the only destination is our own destruction, and in that outcome everybody loses.