Themes of 2015: Black Lives Matter

The third theme running through 2015’s Sifts has been Black Lives Matter. All year in the weekly summaries, I called attention to whatever the latest case was of unwarranted police violence caught on tape, from Walter Scott to Laquan McDonald.

In March, the Justice Department ripped the veil off the predatory police-and-municipal-court system in Ferguson, and the racist policing that enforced it.

[T]he City of Ferguson relies on fines for a major portion of its revenue. It regularly budgets for fines to increase, and it pressures the police department to meet its budget goals by finding more offenses it can cite citizens for. Its municipal court is an opaque, inflexible system that is hard to navigate, particularly if you are poor and/or lack transportation.

As a result, a minor initial offense can snowball into an endless and expensive series of interactions if a citizen fails to appear in court when expected (whether notification of a court date has been received or not) or fails to pay the full fine assessed (regardless of the citizen’s ability to pay).

In short, the Ferguson justice system is predatory and the citizens are the prey.

The counter-attack from the Right was that BLM is anti-police, or even promotes violence against police. I tried to answer that in “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“. (The choice was between the bad racist policing so many black communities see now, and no policing at all.) I drew the implicit conclusion from Lowry’s BLM-slandering article:

So that’s your choice, black America: Live in completely lawless communities, or STFU whenever police kill young blacks they already have subdued, or shoot down young blacks who are doing nothing wrong. You can have police who continue misbehaving the way they have been, or no police at all. There is no third alternative.

A second objection came from people who claimed to sympathize with BLM’s issues, but found BLM tactics unnecessarily rude, as when two young black women shut down a Bernie Sanders speech in Seattle in August. In “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“, I raised the question “What if you must be heard, but no one listens to your polite voice?” and quoted an activist:

I’ll tell you why. It’s because nobody listens to black people until we fuck their shit up. That’s what works. And we are trying to survive, so that’s what we do.

In “Protesting in Your Dreams” I called out Ben Carson, and all the other people who somehow blame BLM for the non-existence of the protest movement they’d prefer to see, but who don’t lift a finger to start that “better” movement.

But what if your purpose is to support the status quo, and maybe to gain the gratitude of the Powers That Be by helping derail and delegitimize the only effective action that’s currently happening? Then you should do what Ben Carson is doing: Fantasize about protest movements that could be happening, but aren’t.

Because that’s one thing the Powers That Be can always count on: Fantasy protests never change anything.

And finally, in “Samaritan Lives Matter“, I answered the “all lives matter” point, using a frame that Christian social conservatives should be able to understand.

The point, I believe, of making the third man [in the Good Samaritan parable] a Samaritan rather than a generic human, is precisely that saying “A Samaritan is my neighbor” would stick in a Judean’s throat, while “Anybody can be my neighbor” probably wouldn’t. “Anybody can be my neighbor” is an abstract feel-good idea a Judean could hold in his head without raising any of his specific prejudices.

The same thing is going on with “Black Lives Matter”. It isn’t meant to say “Black lives matter more than white lives” any more than Jesus was trying to say that Samaritans are better than Judeans. The point of saying “Black lives matter” is that it sticks in the throat of a lot of white Americans. By contrast, “Lives matter” and “All lives matter” are nice, feel-good abstractions. When we say them, we can think about generic people — who we probably picture as white.

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  • Deborah Kahn  On December 28, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Thank you for these and all of your thoughtful, well researched postings this year. Much appreciated and helpful.

  • cnminter  On December 28, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    I just want to thank you for being here. I look forward to the Weekly Sift every week. Happy New Year.

  • ozajh  On December 31, 2015 at 1:19 am

    IMHO it’s a great pity that the phrase wasn’t created as “Black Lives Matter Too”. This would have been MUCH harder to casually turn around, due to its inherent inclusiveness.


  • By The Yearly Sift: 2015 | The Weekly Sift on December 28, 2015 at 10:11 am

    […] Looking back at the 48 Sifts between this one and the last Yearly Sift, several themes stand out. I’ve pulled three out into their own articles: the presidential race; the religion/morality/law complex that resulted from the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision and continued in the “religious freedom” debate that followed; and the year-long debate over Black Lives Matter. […]

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