I was watching Larry Wilmore’s show from last night where he interviewed people from the Black Lives Matter movement. I felt that, aside form the obvious end goal of having less black people murdered by police officers, which should be a no brainer for anyone with a sense of justice, the message was rather vague. This is not the first time I have seen activists from this movement interviewed and felt the message was unclear, again aside form the obvious end goal.
Before I go any further I want to say that I too believe that police brutality is an issue and that a great percentage of that violence, though by no means all, is directed at the black community. This is one of many issues that I believe black Americans have a right to be outraged over.
I’m not saying that calling attention to something is not an important first step. Testifying about a moral, social, or economic outrage takes courage in and of itself. People need to be aware of something before meaningful change can be enacted. Also, people will often criticize a movement for not having a solution. But a problem may arise because there is no easy solution. Until a healthy dialog has begun there may in fact be no way to come up with a solution. But the activists that I have seen, and granted I am sure I am seeing a limited amount of appearances, have not even been laying out a very detailed idea of exactly what is going on. We know that black people, predominately black men, are being killed by police officers at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but what are the actual statistics, details, that will give us an overall sense of what is going on?
Before you accuse me of nitpicking, let me go on. But I am not just speaking about Black Lives Matter, but many left leaning activists whose intentions I support. I was reading in Alain de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy about how there is a difference between true opinion and knowledge. True opinion is when you are right and knowledge is when you understand something in a detailed enough way that you can actually communicate to others through facts about why you are right. I have felt that all along in aims the Black Lives Matter activists have been right, but I have seen a lack of that knowledge in the way that they have been communicating, at least when given moments in our shameful mass media.
So, after seeing their activists again on Larry Wilmore I decided to go to the Black Lives Matter website. Now, in this modern world, perhaps this should be the first thing I did, but alas I did not. Also, I have faulted some of the activists for Black Lives Matter for not being clearer in their messaging, but the media is also greatly to blame. The media should, in a perfect world, make people understand something better, but they are more interested in showing activists breaking up a campaign rally then conveying to us the true actions behind that activism. This is to be expected, but it is still ridiculous that our media is so inept.
So in going to their website I actually saw more concrete goals, ways to achieve their larger aim, and I believe they are things that more people should be interested in. Here are three that don’t even have to do with any of the specific actions of police violence perpetrated in recent times (See their demands here):
We will also demand, through the network, that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. And though Congress seems to finally be considering measures in this regard, it remains essential to monitor the demilitarization processes and the corporate sectors that financially benefit from the sale of military tools to police.
We will call on the office of US attorney general Eric Holder to release the names of all officers involved in killing black people within the last five years, both while on patrol and in custody, so they can be brought to justice – if they haven’t already.
And we will advocate for a decrease in law-enforcement spending at the local, state and federal levels and a reinvestment of that budgeted money into the black communities most devastated by poverty in order to create jobs, housing and schools. This money should be redirected to those federal departments charged with providing employment, housing and educational services.
The first one is something that many people are concerned about, even those that might not initially think they have common cause with Black Lives Matter. In the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars military equipment has been making its way back to our police departments. There are companies, companies that I would describe as war profiteers, that are trying to make even more money by selling this surplus equipment back to our police units. Our police should not be using military equipment, equipment meant to be used to subdue a hostile foreign population, to keep our own citizens in check. This is a whole other issue that could I could talk about for several posts, but this is a very important issue that many people of different political stripes should be concerned about.
The second one is also something that is just common sense. If our police officers, those that are supposed to “protect and serve” are killing people, then we should have a detailed account of that. Perhaps it is my own ignorance, perhaps there is a way of finding that information, but if there isn’t there should be. I don’t see why any thinking person should find any cause to argue with this. We have seen too often that police officers are allowed to use force with discretion. If someone is killed or horribly maimed by those that are supposed to “protect and serve” is should be proved that they did so to either protect themselves or others from death or major injury. There are situation where tragedies cannot be avoided, but the burden of proof should be on the officer to show that they used force as a last resort.
The last demand is also something that should be supported by anyone that is sensible. This is a larger cultural issue, one that does not just affect the black community, but we should be spending less across the board on systems of violence, giving less money to our prison and military industrial complexes, and spending more money on learning and on our social safety net. I know that some Republicans and independents will say that we should be spending less money period, and that is an argument for a different day, but at the very least, if we are spending money, the way we do is completely off balance in supporting the greater good. Black communities, because they are often at a disadvantage, are not wrong to say we should spend more money there, especially in light of what we spend on prisons, military equipment, and so on, but that is only a start.
So I think if you go below the surface, what Black Lives Matter stand for is a good on many levels. I only wish they were better at communicating these goals when our terrible media actually gives them a few small moments to speak out.
The reason I wrote this piece, after reflecting upon it, was not to be overtly critical of Black Lives Matter, or make it seem like their end goal is not an important one. In fact, I think ending police brutality in the black community is a necessity. However, I am always thinking about how one communicates something to people that either aren’t natural allies, or people that would be allies if they only knew what was going on. I am also interested in how something goes from a noble idea to a change in reality. I don’t need to be convinced that black lives matter. But when I watch the activists from this movement, I keep thinking that they are largely preaching to the converted. I want to see them succeed. I, by myself, am obviously not going to change what they do. However, I think it is important if people think about these things. How do you use language, how do you frame ideas, in a way that has the most potential for real change? Also, why do I, as someone that would easily vote for any law that protected more people from police brutality, not feel, when I see this being debated on TV, that the true moral outrage that this issue is demads is not being expressed in a way that is truly effective.
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