Saturday, September 5, 2015

The False Equivalence of "Police Lives Matter"

I've often hesitated to make this argument plainly because I don't want to be insensitive to the pain and frustration police officers are feeling. Moreover, in the aftermath of a recent spate of police officer deaths, there are real families grieving unimaginable losses. And communities feel these losses in a special way. Any untimely death is tragic, but the deaths of police officers are especially so because they serve at our discretion. In a sense, they represent us.

Yet even amid individual tragedies, the public discourse goes on, and much of it is dishonest. Media outlets such as Foxnews revel in their unique brand of ignorance and racism, and fool millions of ordinary Americans in the process. As a result, the Black Lives Matter movement, which has a policy agenda that offers great probability of making police officers safer, is impugned as a cop-killing movement.

That charge is dealt with easily enough: there is no evidence linking movement participants to the killings of police officers. In fact, officer deaths remain at historic lows

Though honest observers accept these facts, many still have a deeper sense of frustration as they observe police officers being criticized and demeaned. From their perspective, the very people doing the most good to protect ordinary people in high-crime neighborhoods are now being maligned, making their jobs harder and neighborhoods less safe. There is a circle the wagons effect that causes people to say, "police lives matter." Because right now, many people feel like they don't.

I sincerely want to be gentle here, but honesty is called for as well. There just isn't evidence that the lives of police officers are devalued in any way comparable to the lives of Black Americans. In the past year, we have seen cases of cold-blooded murder caught on video. Tamir Rice is the most obvious example. His killer, a police officer, known since the day he shot him, has not been charged.

In contrast, when someone murders a police officer, and we know who did it, they are immediately arrested, charged, and held without bail. If police officers faced a situation where prosecutors and other people in positions of power in government and media were reluctant to charge cop-killers with a crime, then their position would be roughly analogous to African Americans. When someone ambushes a cop on video and the investigation goes on for 10 months without any charges being filed, then police would know what it feels like to be Black in America.

I understand that many police officers feel under siege right now. But I think the best of them probably understand that what they're experiencing is a direct result of our nation's devaluing of Black life. Police have the responsibility, and the misfortune, of being the tip of the spear. They are sent out to do what the public demands. For far too long, the public has demanded injustice.

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