Black Lives Matter. It’s sad and confusing that such an important and basic affirmation is being treated as if it was a war cry against cops or a denunciation of white people. It is neither. Instead, it simply acknowledges centuries of violent oppression at the hands of those with economic, political, and police/military power and demands that the law stop treating black people as if their lives did not matter.

By now, we’ve all seen the countless videos of police reflexively shooting black people, often men with their hands up or their bodies prone on the ground (or most recently, both). That knee-jerk, fear-to-trigger response to black people is the problem. We’ve watched videos of the cops handcuffing their shooting victims or standing around talking instead of offering emergency medical care and trying to save the person. That failure to recognize our common humanity is the problem. We’ve heard countless anecdotes of police excessive force and read the statistics about racial profiling. That us-against-them, other-izing mentality is the problem. The rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” is simply a way of saying: enough, stop treating black people’s lives as expendable. A movement aimed at calling national attention to institutionalized racist violence and demanding change is not inherently anti-police or anti-white people. Rather, it is a life-affirming assertion of the rights guaranteed by our constitution.

There have been recent, tragic shootings of police officers, and I condemn such cowardly violence. But it is wrong that some people are trying to use those tragedies to undermine the very important message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Every passionate movement can inspire fringe, mentally unstable degenerates who twist the message. But that violent distortion is a distraction from the very life-affirming essence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is not a way of saying that other lives don’t matter, and it most certainly is not a call for violence against the police or non-blacks. Rather, as President Obama explained, “I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not because they said they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter; rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”

The police seem to be exhibiting two very distinct reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. There are the occasional, heartwarming stories of police joining protesters in recognizing that of course black lives do matter and affirming that the police are there to serve and protect all people, regardless of skin color.

(Photo credit James West via Mother Jones) Black Lives Matter protesters from New York City pose with Ohio police outside the GOP convention in Cleveland.
(Photo credit Wichita Police via NPR) A Black Lives Matter group shares a cookout with Wichita police officers in an event aimed at bridging the gap between residents and officers.

If this trend would only dominate, communities could focus on the police reforms necessary to stop the police violence plaguing minority communities. Training aimed at de-escalation, instead of teaching cops to shoot first and ask questions later is an essential start.

But on the other side, there has been an extremely vocal and hostile response from much of the law enforcement community. There’s been the need to drown out Black Lives Matter with the retort Blue Lives Matter, as if by saying that police need to respect the lives of black people we are somehow devaluing police. The Blue Lives Matter response has prompted a terrifying Facebook page filled with racist rants, spews of hatred, and violent threats against black people, including calls for the massacre of Black Lives Matter protesters.

Reacting to the life-affirming message of the Black Lives Matter movement with a Black vs. Blue paradigm in order to justify racist, violent extremism is only escalating the problem. The Black Lives Matter movement does not devalue cops; the Blue Lives Matter extremists’ response, however, is dishonest and truly frightening. It is nothing short of a call for continued institutional racism in the face of resistance.

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