No matter your opinion of Black Lives Matter, one must be impressed by the group’s ability to do the seemingly impossible: be as polarizing as Donald Trump. It seems that every American citizen either proudly supports the movement or vehemently opposes it. There is little room in between. Unfortunately, this polarization has created an atmosphere of violent rhetoric and harsh banter. But why? What is it that has caused such a severe state of polarization and racial tension in America? In short, the catalyst is ignorance. People on both sides, both supporters and opponents of Black Lives Matter, tend to be ignorant. What most people fail to realize is that while police brutality and related issues are often painted, all too literally, as black and white, the truth is actually more nuanced.
First, it is essential that we recognize the importance of having a conversation. All too often, people do not want to have an honest dialogue about race-related issues. If we are to make any progress towards harmony, we cannot immediately dismiss the claim of many black Americans that their lives are not being valued. Unfortunately, many people are doing just that. People are halting conversations by insisting that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is racist. This is not constructive at all. It is obvious that the name “Black Lives Matter” is not insinuating that black lives matter more than other lives; rather, the name of the movement proposes that black lives are not being treated with the same respect as other lives. Obviously, the phrase is provocative, but it does no good to simply write it off as racist. Let’s use it as a starting point for a broader conversation on the equal value of all lives and how America may be coming up short in securing the right to life for everyone.
Fortunately, Black Lives Matter provides us with a perfect question to begin the conversation on race in America: Are black lives being treated as if they do not matter? This is a critical question, because if black lives are being treated with less dignity than other lives, there is need for immediate action. Unfortunately, the statistics seem to strongly suggest that there is such a need. Despite blacks making up only 13% of the population, 49% of all murder victims each year are black. 93% of these black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Black men are being killed left and right by other black men. When I turn on my local Chicago news station tonight, odds are I will hear about one or two more young black men who were killed. Gang violence is an absolute epidemic, and it’s not just affecting gang members. Stray bullets hit innocent bystanders, and it is not uncommon for innocent people to be targeted in the name of gang retaliation. For example, Tyshawn Lee, a 9-year-old boy, was lured into an alley and killed by three gang members in Chicago. The boy’s murder was used to retaliate against the boy’s father who was a member of a rival gang. Reportedly, the suspects wanted to torture Tyshawn by cutting off his ears and fingers. They even talked about producing a rap song about the killing. This is a prime representation of just how disgusting gang culture has become and how significantly it has infiltrated our cities. Three gang members in Chicago viewed 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee as a tool to retaliate against an opposing gang, not a life of infinite dignity, value, and worth. To them, his life did not matter. To America’s inner city gang members, black lives do not matter.
Black Lives Matter, unfortunately, ignores the vast majority of black lives that are being treated as if they do not matter. It seems there is an unspoken hierarchy in Black Lives Matter. If a life is lost due to police brutality, thousands will march in his or her name, but if an innocent bystander is killed by a gang in Chicago or Los Angeles, his or her name is forgotten. We all know the name Michael Brown but does the name Derrion Albert ring a bell? What about Jonylah Watkins? Blair Holt? All of these children were killed by gangs in Chicago. My point is that Black Lives Matter is right that black lives are being treated as if they do not matter, but the movement’s focus is far too narrow. Black Lives Matter has the potential to inspire a monumental change in the way black lives are valued. In order to do so, however, the movement must recognize and attempt to remedy the broader problem of black-on-black and gang violence.
With all this being said, I do not want anyone to get the impression that I do not recognize the presence of racism and police brutality in America. In no way am I trying to mitigate the tragic loss of life to legitimately and demonstrably unjustified, irresponsible police behavior. The overwhelming majority of police in this nation, however, are selfless and courageous, putting their lives on the line every day for the betterment and safety of society. The policemen killed and injured in Dallas ran towards the shooter and protected those protesting; they were representative of what the average policeman is on a regular basis: a hero. Nevertheless, we must not forget about the minority of police who act on prejudice and racist motivations. All too often, people dismiss police brutality as some sort of unfounded, non-existent problem. Police brutality is a problem, and it does need to be fixed. Although, in fixing it, let’s not turn a blind eye to gang violence.
Black Lives Matter, with such a powerful platform and passionate following, should speak out for all persecuted blacks, the majority of which are being affected by gang violence in major cities. I understand that police brutality and gang violence are two separate problems, but why can’t they be fought at once? Why must we focus solely on police brutality and ignore gang violence? Why can’t Black Lives Matter be about basic moral decency and the right to life that all possess equally and which ought to be respected? It is time for Black Lives Matter to stick up for all blacks who have been treated as if their lives do not matter; then, and only then, can the entire nation get behind the movement.