Black Lives Matter. To me certainly, a black life matters as much as my white life. However to say something like that, or that “All Lives Matter”, is now considered racist according to the BLM activists as it downplays the exceptional circumstances and the exceptional suffering of the black community. Whatever your views on concepts like “structural racism” or “structural oppression” are will depend to a large extent on some combination of your “lived experience” and your broader ideological beliefs. You probably won’t be surprised that I am personally more interested in what I would term the humanitarian or universalist view of the problem rather than the more Marxist-inspired one, which focuses solely on the issue of power: who has it, who doesn’t, and how it is exercised.
Clearly, it is of a particular concern when a life of a citizen is taken by the agents of the state. The state, after all, is there to protect the people, not harm them. Or so believes pretty much everyone except for, yes, Marxists, who again see the state as an instrument of oppression in the service of the ruling class. But whether you are on the left, the right, or in the middle, the BLM movement’s attention to police shootings should be quite understandable. No one wants a trigger happy police being the judge, jury and executioner.
Last year, 1004 people were shot and killed by police in the United States (while George Floyd was not gunned down, his case is analogous). Of that number, 236 individuals were black. And while this is not the determining factor in whether these killings were lawful and justified, 10 of 236, like Floyd, were unarmed. It goes without saying that every instance should be and is investigated. The question of “structural racism” of the American law enforcement and justice systems, which is said to result in disproportionate targeting and incarceration of black Americans as well as disproportionate use of force with a reversely (dis)proportionate lack of consequences for the perpetrators, is not one I want to or indeed am qualified to assess and address. Needless to say, even conservative and libertarian outlets are in favour of reform going towards greater police accountability.
This singular focus on police actions, however, in my humble opinion has the unfortunate result of, to borrow from the critical theory lingo, privileging some deaths over others to the extent of excluding them from the discourse (now excuse me while I go away and wash my mouth). If Black Lives Matter, as they surely should, All Black Lives Must Matter. And while I understand the heightened anger when some black lives are taken by the forces of authority, any serious moral discussion must include the concern for other instances of black lives lost. If your position is that Black Lives Matter, but only those Black Lives you want to spotlight, so really only Some Black Lives Matter, I’m afraid I’m not going to take you seriously.
And, sadly, in all too many cases and situations – when they don’t fit “the narrative” – Black Lives Don’t Seem To Matter:
1) When they are taken under the cover of BLM
George Floyd’s untimely death (possibly murder or at least manslaughter, the case still to be tried) has launched the upheaval of the past week or so. Over that time, some dozen other Americans have lost their lives as a result of events connected with the protests. They include at least five black Americans:
David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired St Louis Police Captain and an owner a pawnshop (ironically at 4123 Martin Luther King Drive) who was shot and killed by looters ransacking his shop. The incident was captured and streamed on Facebook Live.
Dave Patrick Underwood, a 53-year-old Federal Protective Service officer, who was gunned down by unidentified assailants while on duty guarding a federal building amid protests in Oakland.
Italia Marie Kelly, a 22-year-old woman, who was struck by a bullet fired by an unknown person while leaving a BLM rally at Davenport, Iowa.
Chris Beaty, a 38-yer-old former Indiana University football player, who was shot multiple time and killed on the street in downtown Indianapolis during the riot.
Dorian Murrell, an 18-year-old, who also gunned down in Indianapolis during the same disturbances.
No one is protesting about their deaths, since they have not been killed by the police. Yet their lives matter too.
2) When we talk about abortion
This one is a tricky one, as obviously, without getting too (Bill) Clintonian about it, it depends on what your definition of “lives” is. Those who support the right to abortion or choice in general don’t consider the abortees to be living persons. Those who are against abortion or pro-life in general see dead babies. If you subscribe to the latter view, the number of black Americans killed by police becomes a statistical blip compared to the Planned Parenthood-sponsored ethnic womb cleansing.
In the United States, black Americans account for about 13 per cent of the population, but for over 36 per cent of abortions (this is not just a matter of poverty, as black abortion rates are higher at almost every income level). At just over a million abortions per year (the number has been falling for years), this works out to somewhere short of 400,000 black babies aborted over every twelve-month period. All this without hashtags, marches and sit-ins by black activists, who for the most part, it would seem, happen to fall into the pro-abortion/choice camp.
3) When Black Lives are also Blue Lives
Black Americans are slightly over-represented in the nation’s police departments, accounting for 13.3 per cent of nearly 800,000 policemen across the United States as at 2018. That means that more than 105,000 black officers regularly risk their lives in a thankless yet priceless job. As far as I’m aware, no one breaks down police deaths by race, but look at the memorial wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and you will see many black Americans.
The lives of black police officers are doubly difficult and perhaps the reason why so often their black lives don’t seem to matter. As black officer Jay Stalien wrote in his much shared post earlier a few years ago:
I watched and lived through the crime that took place in the hood. My own black people killing others over nothing. Crack heads and heroin addicts lined the lobby of my building as I shuffled around them to make my way to our 1 bedroom apartment with 6 of us living inside. I wanted to help my community and stop watching the blood of African Americans spilled on the street at the hands of a fellow black man.
They called me ‘Uncle Tom’, and ‘wanna be white boy’, and I couldn’t understand why. My own fellow black men and women attacking me, wishing for my death, wishing for the death of my family. I was so confused, so torn, I couldn’t understand why my own black people would turn against me, when every time they called – I was there. Every time someone died – I was there. Every time they were going through one of the worst moments in their lives – I was there. So why was I the enemy?
4) When black people kill other black people
In 2013, a typical year, 2,491 black Americans were murdered in the United States. In 2,245 of these cases the killers were also black Americans (white Americans, by the way, also overwhelmingly kill other white Americans: of 3,005 white murder victims that year, 2,509 were killed by other whites). Again, considering they constitute 13 per cent of the population, black Americans kill and are killed vastly out of proportion to their numbers. There are a myriad of suggested causes why black Americans are over-represented in crime statistics, and everyone on the political spectrum can find causes that fit in with their ideological likings. Whatever the case may be, it is a complex problem with no easy solutions – and no sexy campaigns and Twitter hashtags to be run.
5) When the Democrats are in charge
Most of the major American cities have been run by Democratic Party machines for decades (Detroit, for example, has had Democrat mayors for almost 60 years and has not elected a single Republican to its city council since 1970), with significant input, participation and representation from the black communities. Black deaths from violence, addiction, and other preventable problems are also largely an urban phenomenon. Why can’t the Democrats, who supposedly care about black Americans a lot more than those racist, bigoted Republicans, actually help their black residents? And why are the Democrat-run cities seemingly such cesspools of (institutional) racism? Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, the Democrats control the civic life from the proverbial dog catcher to the mayor. The state government is also in the Democrats’ hands. And yet…
Chicago is another Democrat city; in fact, for decades it has epitomised the Democratic Party urban machine. Between 2003 and 2014, some 5,652 Chicagoans were victims of murder, around three quarters of them black. Over the same time, 4,489 American soldiers died in combat in Iraq. Make of it what you will.
6) In Africa
Perhaps this is rather unfair; after all, most movements have a domestic focus because that is the effective limit of the reach of governments they are trying to influence. But regardless, Africa really does continue to be the Dark Continent as far as the news coverage and the general care factor. For example, in the late 90s and the early years of this century, some 3.8 million Congolese died of violence, disease and starvation as a result of a war that hardly anyone in the West has heard of. The victims of Congo did not have the “good” fortune to die as a result of an American or an Israeli invasion, so the world – and specifically all the liberal and progressive consciences in the United States – simply didn’t give a shit.
Black Lives Matter. But they must matter everywhere in all circumstances, not just those selected by activists.
(Portions of this post have appeared on TDC blog previously, but where relevant the data has been updated)