“Black lives matter” is a great slogan

… if your aim is to guilt-trip Democrat politicians and alienate potential friends. Otherwise it’s just spouting a truism while denying the broader truism “All lives matter.”

But those who espouse the slogan are determined to hang on to it. Several activists have insisted that saying “all lives matter” is a violent statement against black people. (Short of a specific threat to do harm, I’m not actually sure what a “violent statement” is, and how valuing life could be a threat escapes me.) Taking a more moderate position, one Leonard Pitts writes in the Miami Herald (using specious examples) that it’s merely an act of moral cowardice to claim that all lives matter.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with an interest group trying to protect its own interests. And some specific proposals of the Black Lives Matter movement could go a long way toward helping people of any race, color, or creed who encounter cops:

The platform also demands that all officers be equipped with body cameras; for hog-ties, nickel-rides and chokeholds to be felony offenses; for officers to undergo consistent racial bias training; police demilitarization and the establishment of a permanent special prosecutor at the federal level who will independently investigate all cases of a police killing or seriously injuring a civilian.

But shouting, “Black lives matter” — with its clear implication that other lives don’t matter is … well, at the very least, it’s terrible PR. It’s divisive and hostile (imagine how we’d react to the equivalent statement, “White lives matter”!).

Fortunately, if this poll is correct even most black people prefer the broader “all lives matter” viewpoint.


But what about what these Black Lives Matter activists are actually doing to protect themselves and their communities? Petitioning for laws to curb out-of-control cops is well and good. But it’s not the same as taking personal responsibility to defend lives.

I think back to the Deacons for Defense and Justice, who clearly believed with their hearts and souls that black lives mattered, but who walked their walk. They didn’t bother disrupting and intimidating politicians. They just armed themselves. Not merely for protection against “freelance” racist thugs, but against those who enforced noxious Jim Crow laws.

Later came the Black Panthers, who were even more in-your-face than the Black Lives Matter activists. Their techniques were divisive, too. They scared the heck out of “honkies” and some of their techniques may have boomeranged on them badly (with the help of J. Edgar Hoover, who loathed them and militated against them).

Their sudden armed appearance at the California statehouse in 1967 may have been one of the factors that led to passage of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. But let’s also not forget that, on that day at the California Assembly, they were acting as pro-gun activists. They were protesting a proposed bill to outlaw carry of loaded firearms.

To this day, historians debate whether the original Panthers (there’s now a revival party) were good or bad for the black community. But of one thing, there’s no doubt whatsoever. They armed themselves and took responsibility for trying to protect and better their communities. Per Wikipedia:

At its inception in October 1966, the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality in Oakland, California. In 1969, community social programs became a core activity of party members. The Black Panther Party instituted a variety of community social programs, most extensively the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and community health clinics.

If Black Lives Matter advocates really believe what they say, then they won’t just protest and petition. They won’t wait — patiently or otherwise — for the political establishment to fix the problems they perceive. They’ll step up to defend real lives in the real world as the Deacons and the Panthers did.

It would be a bonus if they recognized that the very political establishment they’re looking to for their salvation is the one that militarized the police, equipped them with both the mindset and the materiel of soldiers, and ensured that few armed agents of the government would ever bear personal accountability for excessive brutality. That same establishment is the creator of the drug war that has wrecked so many black homes, left so many black children fatherless, and filled so many cities with gang violence.

If black lives really matter — and they should — then activists will step up to personally defend them. Not only with defensive arms, but with the understanding that government is a cause, not a solution, to their problems.


10 thoughts on ““Black lives matter” is a great slogan”

    1. ML — Yes, if you’re going to have cops at all (and that’s a different issue), they’re sometimes going to do brutal things when dealing with brutal people. But no, of course brutality isn’t acceptable against the innocent and non-violent.

      1. Didn’t think about it from that angle, but those actions by police would not represent brutality if their use of force was only what was required to stop a legitimate threat, any more than it would be for a mundane in defense of him/herself and others.

        To me, “brutality” indicates excessive use of force, for whatever reason, but especially with intent to injure or kill for its own sake. Unfortunately, too many cops actually enjoy that, and are, of course, seldom held responsible for the outcome.

  1. Actually “Black Lives Matter” has a clear implication that they matter “too”, not above, or more, than other lives. The “All Lives Matter” is an attempt to shut down a group that the people who are shouting it (“All Lives Matter”) don’t want to hear. That’s my quibble, I have no problems with the rest of the article, and think it’s pretty much spot on.

    1. Thanks, Keith. I know that — in theory — Black Lives Matter isn’t intended to mean that other lives don’t. But when I listen to the hostility with which some of its adherents defend the slogan, I don’t hear inclusivity at all. In any case, no matter what it’s intended to mean, it’s a terrible PR phrase if you want to get people on your side.

  2. I reject the notion that “Black Lives Matter” is somehow inclusive of “all lives.” The ire directed at any idea that “any other lives matter” puts the lie to that idea. The basic proposition is that blacks are being targeted because they are black. I don’t have access to any LE database which would show me arrest/crime/fatality/harassment/etc./etc. data based on race. All I have is the media to tell me what’s happening, and we all know how reliable and unbiased that information is, but I still just don’t see it.
    I do find interesting the idea that the original Black Panthers were somehow commendable as civic minded, 2A minded folks who were simply trying to protect their peeps from the bad cops. I remember the time well, and I think it just depends on which side you were on.

  3. I don’t get too wrapped around the names people use for their groups (while I may privately roll my eyes some). One could even argue that the point of that name is to generate publicity – if they thought about it that much. Anyway names don’t really matter much in the big scheme.

    One group that is doing something interesting is the Armed Citizen Project:

  4. They’d also have a bit more credibility with me if they would stop celebrating thugs like Michael Brown. And their takeover of the Bernie Sanders rally was just plain weird — why alienate a politician who supports you?

  5. History: Back in the day (before internet) Black Panthers staged a rally near the Texas death chamber in Huntsville to protest an execution. They carried rifles. (Carrying handguns was illegal at the time.) Now there’s a section in Texas law prohibiting carrying any firearm, illegal knife, or club within 1000 feet of a place of execution on the day of an execution, unless you’re driving on a public road. It is, of course, a felony. [Penal Code 46.03(a)(6).]

    These days we also have the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. What I’ve noticed is the hyperventilation on both Mother Jones and on ultraconservative sites.

    You’re right on both levels, Claire. The police aren’t going to change until the government changes them, and the #blm folks need a PR consult.

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