It is important to begin this article with some introductory statements. First, the ambush and deaths of police officers in Dallas were heinous, monstrous, unsupportable actions. America mourns their deaths and collectively assails the attack. Second, it is one of our core beliefs as Americans that life matters…all human life matters. Finally, our system of justice is patently corrupt, unfair and unjust. We must be diligent in our efforts to rectify that so that all persons who come before the system are treated fairly so that justice prevails.
When I heard that a Dallas gunman had accused the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement as one of his reasons for shooting 12 police officers, killing 5, I wondered whether I should join those who would replace “Black Lives Matter” with “All lives Matter”. But changing that would change the essence of the movement and it would alter the pervasive truth of the movement. It is Black Lives Matter because America has historically devalued Black Lives while unreservedly accepting the value of White Lives. On July 4, 1776, when America formally declared ourselves Independent from tyranny, the declaration stated that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have declared in one or our nation’s most treasured documents, The Declaration of Independence, that we have the unalienable God given Right to Life.
But on March 6, 1857, United States Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney pronounced in his opinion in the Dred Scott decision that the black man “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. His opinion was immediately attacked by Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists. But it was Douglass who is credited with reminding Americans that the Right to Life was not borne of man’s law but of natural law. Notwithstanding that fact, there were many who embraced the justice’s pronouncement, particularly in slave-holding states, which is remembered as dividing the nation and precipitating the Civil War. The opinion gave to those who would rely on it, the legal basis for destroying Black lives without social accountability and without legal consequence. Among them, police officers who could consider the opinion as approval for killing blacks without reprisal. Dred Scott, after all, had taken to the judicial system to sue for his freedom from enslavement.
Frederick Douglass’s response to the Taney decision might well have been the beginning of “Black Lives Matter”. But why in 2016 are we still addressing whether Black Lives Matter? I suggest to you that we are still addressing the question because the facts show that our community continues to reel from the effects of that fateful supreme court decision’s overt and racist endorsement of the devaluation of black lives. Today, 1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated compared to 1 in every 106 white men. In 2015, unarmed black people were killed at 6 times the rate of unarmed whites. Over the past two years, 41% of unarmed people shot by police were black although blacks were less than 15% of the population. Black male teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by police officers than their male counterparts. These statistics show that black lives in America continue to be systematically devalued. It is up to us to ensure that everyone knows that black lives do matter.
For some detractors, there is significant reliance on what I believe to be myths used as tacit endorsement of the Taney pronouncement. The Manhattan Institute states that blacks are targeted by police because we commit all the crimes. It is true that black victims of crimes are 62% more likely to have been the victims of a black perpetrator. But the other statistic is that whites commit crimes against white people; white on white crime. 56% of white victims were victimized by white people. When you look at murder, whites are about 83% more likely to be killed by whites and 53% of gang related murders are committed by whites.
The war on drugs is now recognized as an institutional target of blacks for criminal intervention. Similar reports indicate the long time targeting of blacks for traffic stops, for example. In a self fulfilling prophecy, black communities are most often subjected to geographic profiling. Police monitor traffic along roadways frequented by black drivers, police appear to monitor activities in black communities even though criminal activities occur outside black communities, police will more frequently stop black drivers for a busted headlight or similar subterfuge. The result of this geographic profiling is that the numbers will show that more blacks are engaged in the monitored activity when in fact, what the numbers really show is that where one seeks, they will find.
The Huffington Post reported that while “white Americans are more likely than black Americans to have used most kinds of illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and LSD, blacks are far more likely to go to prison for drug offenses. Nearly 20% of whites have used cocaine compared to 10% of blacks and Latinos. “ Higher percentages of whites use hallucinogens, marijuana, pain killers, methamphetamine and although blacks use crack more than whites it is not by much. However, blacks are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites. Moreover, whether you look to the Post or to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there is no significant difference between drugs use by blacks and whites. The significant difference in imprisonment based on race as a result of the War on Drugs program has finally been reviled. The impurity of the statistics are evident because they fail to address the disparity by race of illegal drugs distribution, production, or manufacturer. If these statistics were reported, they would surely increase the disparity by large measure.
Members of the Black Lives Matter group have been quoted as saying “Black people are not inherently more violent or more prone to crime than other groups. But black people are disproportionately poorer, more likely to be targeted by police and arrested, and more likely to attend poor or failing schools. All of these social indicators place one at greater risk for being either a victim or a perpetrator of violent crime. To reduce violent crime, we must fight to change systems, rather than demonizing people.”
That sentiment is important. Because regardless of the statistical data, at the core of the American justice system is that all people who come before it will be treated fairly. When Philando Castille of Minnesota reached into his pocket to get his identification complying with Officer Yanez’s request, justice would have prohibited him being shot to death under color of law.
“Black Lives Matter” does not address the fact that white lives matter because there is not now nor has there ever been a question that white lives mattered. The only issue is that the black man’s right to life is a right that must be recognized. There must be no equivocation. There must be no doubt. There must be no system of justice that fails to recognize that BLACK LIVES MATTER.