Whose Lives?

One of my Livermore friends (naming no names) posted a truly offensive image on Facebook saying “Police Lives Matter.” I pointed out to her that this slogan is bullshit. I didn’t use the term “racist bullshit” in my reply to her, but I should have.

She snipped off a comeback about how there are some “core problems” in the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m not sure what she was referring to; she didn’t say. I did go down the rabbit hole far enough to check out a Stanford Daily opinion piece attacking BLM which complained that BLM justifies rioting and violence. A link in that piece led to a BLM-positive page in which it was pointed out that defending big-box stores against looting is, in essence, defending corporate capitalism.

I certainly don’t support looting and arson, but I have no sympathy at all for corporate capitalism. It seems to me the thing that anti-BLM commentators are keen to overlook is people’s anger at how their friends and neighbors are routinely killed by the police, and without consequences. That’s why they’re rioting, folks.

I pointed out to my friend that the reason for the Black Lives Matter slogan is that historically, black lives have not mattered in North America, not for 400 years. Lynchings, segregation, discrimination in hiring, laws against mixed-race marriages, a blatantly discriminatory “justice” system that continues to punish black people much more harshly than white people who are convicted of similar crimes — the list is long. I mentioned the white riot in Tulsa in 1921, in which white people burnt down the entire black business district of the city.

Has any of these outrages ever been perpetrated on police officers? Has there ever been a single case in this country of a police officer being lynched by a mob who then ate a nice picnic lunch and took snapshots around the tree where the corpse was swinging? I doubt it. Has there ever been a law against a non-police officer marrying a police officer? That would be inconceivable. Are police officers ever sentenced to longer prison terms than non-police officers convicted of the same crime? More often, the murderers among the police can’t even be convicted in court.

I’m sure most police officers are good people. They work hard, and I appreciate what they do. I would not want to live in a town where there are no police protecting us from criminals. And yes, their job is sometimes very dangerous! They occasionally have to make split-second life-or-death decisions, and anybody can make a wrong decision at such a moment! I would never blame a police officer for that, not if it truly is a life-or-death decision. But sometimes it isn’t. Kneeling on a man’s neck for nine minutes is not a split-second life-or-death decision.

So the real-world picture is somewhat nuanced. It’s not a good/bad, either/or question.

However, the slogan “Police Lives Matter” is not actually about supporting the lives of decent officers like the man who was run down in D.C. this week. It’s a thinly disguised bit of racism. It’s not just pro-police. It’s a statement in support of the police against black people. It’s a statement in support of the man who, while wearing a badge and under cover of authority, murdered George Floyd.

I will stand up in support of any police officer who is willing to publicly testify against brutal racist cops. I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of them, but I hope there are some. I don’t know any police personally, but my impression from what I’ve read is that in most cases their sense of loyalty to their fellow officers urges, or even forces, them to remain silent rather than call out the racists and abusers in their ranks.

I don’t support any organization in which ordinary people have to remain silent, or worse, have to lie, in order to keep their jobs and be safe from retaliation. I wouldn’t support it in the stock room of a big-box store, I wouldn’t support it in a black church in Alabama, and I don’t support it in a police department.

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