All Lives Matter (But Do Some Matter More Than Others?)
For those readers outside the United States a bit of background will help—before I express today’s opinion. American readers familiar with the current controversy over “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”—as slogans—can skip this second paragraph (first content paragraph):
A few years ago, here in the U.S., a series of notorious police (and other) shootings of young black men began to occur. Well, when it began and how common it was, is a matter of heated debate. We can say at least—without fear of contradiction—that the mass media began to air stories including video recordings of young black men, mostly unarmed, being shot and killed by white police officers (and some others). The most notorious case, in my opinion, occurred in Ohio where a white police officer shot a twelve year old African-American boy who had a non-lethal pistol. The shooting occurred in a public park and without warning. The boy was not pointing the pistol at anyone or threatening anyone. There have been many other instances of (mostly) young, black boys and men being shot and killed by police (and occasionally by others) under circumstances where, so many of us believe, a white boy or man would not have been shot. One response to this series of events has been the rise of a movement called “Black Lives Matter” with demonstrations, T-shirts, bumper stickers, marches, etc. Then a few white policemen were shot and killed in apparent retaliation assassinations by angry black men. The result was a backlash movement called “All Lives Matter” where “All Lives” seemed especially to refer to police officers. Now there is a heated debate in social media, newspapers, on television, etc., about which slogan is more important.
Now to my opinion….
As often, my mind looks for an analogy and settles on Germany in the 1930s. There could be others, but I think 1930s Germany will shed the brightest light on this debate. Imagine, if you can, a pro-Jewish lives movement in Germany in the 1930s with the slogan “Jewish Lives Matter.” This comes on the heels of the infamous “Kristallnacht”—the “Night of Broken Glass”—when many Jewish businesses were looted by anti-Semitic thugs with official permission. Many Jewish men were taken away that night and the next to concentration camps and then released. Many scholars date the Holocaust to that night and the next day even though most of the Jewish people taken away to concentration camps were released then. Later they and most others were rounded up and taken to concentration camps permanently—most of them to die there.
Sidebar: *The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Note that I am not comparing treatment of young black boys and men in America today to the Holocaust! My analogy is different. To get it, you have to stop thinking of the wrong, unintended comparison and “catch” the right one. So read on.
Now, imagine that a few days after Kristallnacht signs begin to go up around Germany saying “Jewish Lives Matter.” And imagine demonstrations and marches by both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans in German cities under banners reading “Jewish Lives Matter.” Further imagine, if you dare, counter-demonstrations using this slogan “All Lives Matter.” The reason for it being that, in the wake of Kristallnacht there has been some terrorist reprisals against the few government officials involved in it (by instigating it or looking the other way as it happened). Imagine yourself going back to that time and place and observing these two movements and slogans. What would you think?
In order to understand “Black Lives Matter” you have to at least attempt to see America today through “black eyes.” When I see and hear “All Lives Matter” I, like most Americans (and others), think “But of course.” But many African-Americans in America see or hear it and think “But not all lives matter equally”—even to many of those who are loudly proclaiming “All Lives Matter.” To them, “All Lives Matter,” as a slogan, is nothing more or less than an attempt to squelch, squash the Black Lives Matter movement. In the abstract, in theory, “All Lives Matter” is easy for almost all Americans to agree with. “Black Lives Matter” is less so. And that is why “All Lives Matter” exists—as a slogan and movement. It is a backlash to and against any attempt to highlight and underscore the dangerous lives of even innocent young, black boys and men in America today.
I believe the “Black Lives Matter” slogan and movement is really not so much energized by the fact of so many young, black, unarmed boys and men being shot by police as by the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the police (and others) suffered no serious legal consequences as a result of their killings. In most cases the declared result of investigations has been that the shooters (police, some others) had good reason to believe their lives were in danger. Many African-Americans and others, however, ask “When did it become normal and acceptable for police to shoot first and ask questions or shout warnings second—if at all?”
I teach many African-American students and from them I have learned much. One thing they all tell me is that they have frequently been stopped, pulled over, by police for no reason—except that they are black. I have good reason to believe them from my own experience. I have only been “pulled over” by police once for no legal reason. Many years ago I received a call from a young African student who was stuck at his work at 2:00 AM. His shift ended and he had no means of getting home. I got up and drove to his place of work and drove him to his dormitory. As the two of us were driving through the downtown area of a major metropolitan area (which we could not avoid) at about 2:30 AM a police car pulled up behind us with its lights flashing. Of course I pulled over to the curb and waited in the car until the police officers—two of them—approach both sides of my car with their hands on their pistols. I knew I was not speeding, so I wondered why I was pulled over. My passenger, however, had his head in his hands and was obviously distraught. I knew him to be a good Christian and even a pastor—back in Africa where he was born and raised before coming to the U.S. for Bible college education. The two white police officers ordered both of us out of the car without explanation. We stood on the sidewalk about ten feet away from my car as the police officers searched it thoroughly—even to the point of taking the back seats out of the car. Then they frisked my black passenger and questioned both of us about why we were driving around at 2:30AM. I explained our reason. The police clearly were suspicious and even hostile. Eventually they allowed us to get back in my car and proceed on our way—without explanation or apology. The whole incident took between fifteen minutes and half an hour and created a great deal of anxiety in both of us. We were never given any reason for the stop and search. It was clearly unconstitutional, but my male African-American students tell me such has happened to them many times. Now some of them say they feel lucky just to be alive—after so many young black men have been shot and killed by police (and others) under similarly innocent circumstances.
Yes, no doubt, “All Lives Matter.” But is this the proper slogan at this particular time and in this particular context—as a reaction to “Black Lives Matter?” I say no, it is not. It is clearly a backlash against “Black Lives Matter” which is something not all Americans believe—especially when the “black lives” in question are youthful, male and black. So, when I hear “All Lives Matter” my mind automatically adds “except young, black, male lives”—not for myself but for those touting the slogan.
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