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The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has dominated news cycles and sparked a much-needed national dialogue about race in America. While there are valid concerns about BLM and its aims, many detractors criticize the movement using poorly constructed arguments. Before we can understand why the criticisms are flawed, a quick history lesson on BLM is needed.
In 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed Af-rican American teenager named Trayvon Martin in Florida. The ensuing trial garnered national attention and led to discussions on racial profiling, the justice system, and general institutionalized racism. BLM was founded when Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Martin. The founders were Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors. The movement has since grown into a broad grassroots movement of activists. Their stated aim is to protest against and eventually overcome the systemic racism that has restricted the freedom of African Americans. Millions of people dis-miss the movement for its exclusive focus on black lives, countering with the refrain “all lives matter.” Others claim that BLM’s activism is divisive and unnecessary due to the media’s exaggerations of racial inequality. Opponents also argue that BLM is encouraging violence against police. All these criticisms are unfounded and lack basis in fact.
The most common dismissal of BLM’s agenda is “all lives matter,” an appealingly simplistic but ultimately misguided response. The critics who offer this response assert that the phrase “black lives matter” somehow implies that white lives do not. The BLM movement is not trying to argue that white lives do not matter. Of course all lives matter. Instead, asserting that black lives matter is a response to the implicit statement that they do not. This assertion is made when black men are shot by white cops who go unpunished. It is made when black people are disproportionately incarcerated compared to white people. It is made when the residual effects of centuries of institutionalized racism limit opportunities for people of color.
This is where the second criticism comes in. Many All Lives Matter proponents are unable to see the necessity of the BLM movement since they are not aware of the extent of systemic racism in American society. According to a Pew poll, nearly 40 percent of white Americans believe nothing needs to be done to address racism. Since the Civil Rights Act was passed nearly 60 years ago, racism must not exist. All Americans can now drink from the same water fountains, go to the same schools, and eat at the same restaurants. Some black people live in abject poverty, but so do some white people. Police may shoot black people, but they also shoot white people. Heck, we even have a black president. You might have a racist grandmother who still drops the n-word at Thanksgiving, but she is an exception. Racism’s last vestiges are outdated and do not pose a serious impediment to the African American community’s freedom. However, this outlook does not match reality. A quick survey of the relevant facts makes it abundantly clear that your experience in America is likely to be drastically different depending on your skin color and social class.
According to the Washington Post, a black person is 2.5 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the police. An unarmed black person is five times as likely as an unarmed white per-son to be shot and killed. In 2014, blacks made up 12 percent of total population, but 36 percent of the prison population. Studies show that blacks receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts for similar crimes. To make matters worse, a clear racial disparity exists in economic measures. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, black unemployment has been approximately 2.5 times higher than white unemployment since 1970. The disparity exists even when edu-cation levels are taken into consideration. The Pew Research Center’s data reveals that blacks lag behind whites in homeownership, house-hold wealth, median income, and many more indicators of economic well being. Based on the data, denying the existence of racial in-equality appears to be an untenable position.
The final claim addressed in this piece — that BLM promotes violence against police — is also flawed. Although there are a few highly publicized instances of a deranged individual who vaguely ties himself to the BLM cause attacking police officers, these events do not reflect the aims of BLM. Some protests do spiral into riots where protesters destroy property and people get injured. However, many of the looters are just criminals unaffiliated with BLM, using the confusion to further their personal interests. Judging BLM for the actions of a criminal minority would be like judging all Red Sox fans for the burnt cars and destroyed property following the team’s 2004 World Series victory. As for those who engage in violent actions and are affiliated with BLM, it is important to note that frustrated and disenfranchised people often feel they must resort to violence when confronting armed forces they view as the oppressor. Although violence is not condonable nor the solution in this case, their response should not undermine the movement’s largely peaceful nature. On BLM’s official website, there are no calls to riot and loot, no encouragement to kill police officers, and no violent rhetoric. The majority of people that associate with the movement are law-abiding citizens who limit their protests to peaceful means.
Historically, social change has been achieved through the type of peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience that BLM promotes. Nearly half a century ago, the Civil Rights Movement illustrated the merits of protest to promote equality. Rejecting BLM because all lives matter would be like ignoring Martin Luther King’s dream of a racially tolerant America because all dreams matter. We did not abandon the Civil Rights Movement because of the riots and social tension of the 1960s. We should not turn away from BLM now, especially when the movement’s opponents fail to propose compelling reasons for us to do so. Equality can be more than a laudable idea if we toil to make it a universal reality.