Earlier this month, 37 year old Alton Sterling was shot and killed outside a convenience store in Louisiana where he sold unlicensed DVDs. He was unarmed. Within the week, the news would break of 32 year old Philando Castile who had been shot four times by police forces while he reached for his license and registration. The events come as a sad and painful reminder to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – a global community urging police to be held accountable for fatal shootings against black communities in the United States. But barely a few days after the attacks, what started as a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, turns violent and five police men are confirmed dead. The racial tension sends ripples around the globe.
In 2015, police officers killed 1,152 people in the United States. Of these, 97% were never followed up on by official charges against the police officers. Why? That’s exactly what BLM wants to know. Ironically, Alton Sterling’s death takes place in the state of Louisiana, the birth state of the growing Blue Lives Matter counter movement that advocates for police forces to have special protections. Introduced by Republican Ken Buck, the Blue Lives Matter Bill makes violent crimes targeting law enforcement officers federal hate crimes. But as Ilya Somin explains, the bill is both unnecessary and unconstitutional.
Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement have backed the bill insisting that the data to show police violence is fundamentally skewed. Heather MacDonald in her latest book, The War on Cops (2016) argues that criminal homicides have risen in the last two years following the landmark death of Michael Brown in Fergusson, Missouri. She calls this – the ‘Fergusson’ effect. As a result, police forces have backed off proactive policing; the driving forces, she argues, along with lengthened sentences that protected hundreds of minority lives.
“The world knows the name of Michael Brown but not Tyshawn Lee, a 9-year-old black child lured into an alley and killed by gang members in Chicago last fall. Tyshawn was one of dozens of black children gunned down in America last year.”
She backs this with data pointing out that in2015, homicides in the US rose by 17% – the largest ever rise in a single year in the United States.
It is a sentiment echoed by Jay Stalien, a black police officer who argues that the movement is undermining the police justice system. Stalien argues that US police officers have killed almost double the number of white people in 2015, (The Post reported that in 2015 officers killed 662 whites and Hispanics, and 258 blacks). compared to black people, and that gang violence and violent crime has claimed far more lives than police violence.
But as Vox points out, that is precisely the point. Although gangs, drugs and violence within the black community has existed and likely will continue to do so, there is a fundamental difference in the state, whose primary responsibility of protection of its population, for being able to stop, and fatally shoot civilians without apropriate checks and procedures. Without accountability, the rise of racial profiling creates loopholes for police officers to commit violent crimes themselves and be spared the consequences. The Blue Lives Matter Bill maybe doing just that.
“Hate crimes are crimes committed against the most personal parts of people’s identity and the things they can’t change about themselves: their race, their gender, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their disability, their gender identity. The things they have to use to confront the world on a day-to-day basis all the time, and that they don’t take off at night when they go to sleep. These are things that are a core part of every individual. Adding a professional category isn’t that.”
Apart from that, there is the argument that police deaths themselves remain at a low level, and have done so for the last few years. Simply put, the Blue Lives Matter is just unnecessary, it tackles a whole different issue (that of police deaths) and latching it onto the #BlackLivesMatter movement undermines the struggle for equal rights that the black community has historically had to fight for. Black Lives Matter started as a response to the killings of Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald – all instances where police were acquitted for violent shootings on unarmed, young, black men.
There are several other theories that draw links to why police violence towards young, black men has been on the rise, including implicit racial bias, historical marginalisation of communities and the police warrior complex. In its own terms, the Black Lives Matter movement is a “is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” It outlines the right to self-determination and is considerably wider in scope. It expands to matters of disability, sexual orientation and gender and at the core of it is a peaceful movement for identity, diversity and dignity.
Protecting black rights, preventing violent crimes and ensuring safer commutes is something everyone wants – but creating a bill to protect policemen may hardly be the solution. In fact, it distracts from the focus of the Black Lives Matter movement. As the events of the last month demonstrate, peaceful protests getting out of hand have the ability to undermine the ideals which it stands for.
The challenge remains in drafting polciy that accounts for police brutality and ensures effective counter measures of reducing violent crime in the first place. As Allison Padilla-Goodman of the Anti-Defamation League explains, “Louisiana’s hate crime bill, before this Blue Lives Matter piece, was actually a pretty good bill… and still our reporting numbers were nine [hate crimes] in the last year. Many other states either don’t have a bill at all or have very incomplete bills. And that’s on our politicians for sure.”
Image: Jonathan Bachman / Reuters