Black lives don’t matter
The Black Lives Matter movement makes some people uncomfortable. And so those folks counter with “All Lives Matter.” But that’s like telling a hungry girl in Appalachia there are starving children all over the world. It dismisses her condition and implies she needs to quit her belly aching. Or quite literally, ignore her aching belly!
Our country’s shameful history of devaluing black lives didn’t end with slavery. Or with civil rights laws. Or with a black president.
The Black Lives Matter movement was started in July of 2013 by black activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. It was a horrible crime. But what haunts me is, although Trayvon’s mother reported him missing, his body (and cell phone) lay in the morgue for three days before the authorities contacted the family. He didn’t matter.
Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer, Darren Wilson who was later found to be justified in the shooting. Hands up, hands down – whatever you think happened – Mike Brown’s body was left in the street in the summer heat for four hours. He didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun. Or that Eric Garner was merely selling loose cigarettes. Who else didn’t matter? Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Prince Jones, Freddie Gray, John Crawford, Ernest Satterwhite, Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose. And how many names don’t we know about because there wasn’t a cell phone or body camera in the mix?
Bernie Sanders was blindsided by Black Lives Matter activists in Seattle in early August and left the stage. With that heads up, Hillary reached out to would-be protestors and set up a meeting. Her optics were far better than having the microphone ripped out of her hand. But there was no break through. It’s highly unlikely any presidential candidate will come right out and admit black lives don’t matter to a percentage of the electorate. Those Americans, young and old, refuse to see blacks as equals.
I was just 14, but I clearly remember the shock and awe of the “Black Power Salute” at the 1968 Summer Olympics. It was the 200 meter race. African American Tommie Smith won gold. Australian Peter Norman took silver. And African American John Carlos earned bronze. Everyone was shocked by the audacity. But the truth is they (along with the Australian) were making a protest for social justice. All three wore human rights badges on their jackets. Norman was protesting White Australia Policy. Both Americans were shoeless and wore black socks to symbolize black poverty. Smith wore a neck scarf to represent black pride. Carlos unzipped his jacket for solidarity with blue collar workers and wore a beaded necklace for those who were lynched. Smith and Carlos had planned to both wear black gloves. But Carlos mistakenly left his in the Olympic Village. At the Australian’s suggestion, they split up Smith’s pair so Carlos pumped his left fist and Smith his right on the podium during the national anthem. Most of us only remember the Black Power part. And that really threatened some whites.
I got a tiny twinge of déjà-vu 46 years later. Five black St. Louis Rams football players emerged from the tunnel with their hands up, in solidarity with the “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot” Ferguson protest. I heard many white pundits get all hung up in their tighty-whities over the literal gesture and lost the whole point.
It’s an ugly truth, but there are people in this country who think the color of someone’s skin makes them less of a person. If you’re black, it’s harder to find work. You’re more likely to get stopped by the police, more likely to be arrested and more likely to go to prison for longer sentences. So let’s quit pussy-footing around the issue.
The first step is admitting the problem. I was struck by something Minnesota Senator Al Franken said in a recent interview on “CBS Sunday Morning.” He was asked about his social justice roots. Franken recalled watching the black and white TV images, along with his father, of police with batons unleashing vicious German shepherds onto peaceful black protestors. The senior Mr. Franken shook his head and said, “Jews can’t stand for this.”
How can we, as fellow human beings, witness this injustice and do nothing? If we can’t call out white Americans who discriminate against black Americans, then what does that say about us? When all lives truly matter in this country, we can hoist that banner. But we’re not there yet. So stop saying it.