The Long Wait For #BlackLivesMatter (Update x2)

It’s not an entity like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a name reflecting a very different time in America.  It has no legal existence, like a 501(c)(3), with a mission and leaders authorized to direct its actions. It’s just a bunch of people trying to achieve recognition of a problem. What that problem is, however, is a problem in itself.

Black Lives Matter began as a twitter hashtag following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  To digital natives, a movement based on a hashtag may seem real, about as real as any virtual cause.  But it’s begun to fray at its edges for lack of leadership, definition and direction.  Like almost everything digital, it reveals the gaps between virtual and reality.

The series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police, especially when captured on video, gave rise to the ability to show people, for whom the claims that law enforcement wasn’t doing as great a job as they kept telling us they were doing, that cops were murdering blacks needlessly, and in significantly disproportionate numbers.  This wasn’t just some wild complaint, playing the race card. There were real, honest-to-God, dead bodies of unarmed blacks lying in pools of their own blood.

Black Lives Matter was real. The complaints were real. The deaths were real. This could no longer be ignored by those who didn’t fear they or their children wouldn’t make it home for dinner. Our beloved protectors were murderers. This could no longer be denied or ignored by anyone of good conscience. We saw the pictures.

For some of us, whose skin color, race, ethnicity, provided the usual excuse to focus on other issues that more directly affected our personal lives, this was the opportunity we long awaited. You see, we’ve been fighting the Black Lives Matter war for decades, before advocates like Deray McKesson were born.  But we didn’t have the proof, and so were ignored. We kept fighting, though, because there was no other option. Dead bodies aren’t things you can easily walk away from.

Of course, we’re not part of the Black Lives Matter team today. The passionate advocates haven’t sought our advice and counsel. They may not even be aware that we were fighting this fight long before there was such a thing as twitter. Plus, we’re not necessarily black, and they really aren’t interested in White Knights, which undermines what they call “agency” today. They want it to be their war. Fair enough. It’s not that we’re looking for awards for being great white guys.

But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stay silent while you rookies blow it.  We’ve got too much time and effort into your cause to let you screw it up, and that’s what you’re doing. You’re blowing it. You’re losing the high ground. You’re squandering our (note I wrote “our,” not your) efforts because you lack the focus and, well, the experience to realize what needs to be done to accomplish your goal.  And what can’t happen if you’re going to stand a chance.

Sorry, kids, but you’re fucking this all up, and somebody has to tell you because you aren’t getting this on your own.

First, there was the usurpation of Black Lives Matter by college students, who couldn’t distinguish between dead bodies in the streets and the hurt feelz of the privileged at Yale, Princeton, Mizzou and all those other colleges where wannabe protesters started whining, “me too, me too.” No, not having a safe space set aside for delicate students of color is not the same thing as Tamir Rice being gunned down in a park. No, the name of an American president on a wall is not the same thing as Eric Garner being asphyxiated on the street for the loosie lie.

You are close to gathering widespread support from people of good conscience of all colors, all races, which (sorry to tell you) we need to make this stick.  In the ordinary scheme of things, people only care about things that directly affect their lives. This means that the murders of blacks by police doesn’t touch the lives of whites. At least, not sufficiently to put Black Lives Matter on their front burner. This isn’t an argument, but reality.

But the videos? When they see the videos, even white people who wouldn’t really give your concerns a second thought are stuck. They can’t ignore murders in front of their faces. They’re still human, and these videos, these murders, have given them no choice but to realize that something has gone very wrong, deadly wrong.

So when whiny students co-opt the cause of ending black lives snuffed out by police without reason, demanding that we acknowledge their microaggressions, you lose all the people whom you need behind you. They aren’t going to lose sleep over your microaggressions when compared to the problems that touch their lives. You may think they should, but they don’t, which is all that matters. You lost them whether you like it or not.

And then something like this happened.

roadblock

What were you thinking?  I know, you had nothing to do with this demonstration of monumental stupidity. You’re a movement without focus, a movement without a leader. Nobody asked your permission, and you had no permission to give. Some moron in Minneapolis decided that this was a good idea, and so it happened.

Because making life miserable for the people whose support you need is a great way to bring people to your side?  Because making life miserable for the people who have not shot and killed anyone proves your point?

We get it. You’re new at this movement thing, and are still feeling your way through. Some leaders have emerged who are quite smart. Others have large followings but are dumber than dirt, and keep stepping in shit that sprays on you. But if you don’t focus on what you are really trying to accomplish, keep the dopes in line and stop those who would free-ride your cause into the toilet, it’s going to fail.  We don’t want to see that happen.

We get it. You kids want to do it yourselves. Children are like that, with the need to show they can do things without grown-ups’ help. But children do childish things. It’s one thing to watch them spill the milk when they insist on pouring their own bowl of cereal, but it’s another when the issue at stake is as serious as human lives. We may be able to wipe up spilled milk, but we cannot bring the dead back to life. We’ve waited too long to save people to let you do it yourself and screw it all up.

Stop diffusing your very serious message with the college whiners’ puny complaints. Stop alienating people whose support you need by chasing them away, and bring them into the fold. Stop blowing it. This is a historic opportunity. Don’t squander it.

Update:  No doubt this will drive support to the cause. What a waste.

Update 2: My pal, Elie Mystal, sees this very differently:

Obviously, these protests annoy people. People get annoyed when they are being called out. People get annoyed and angry when they are being called out and inconvienced [sic]. . . There is simply no way for #BlackLivesMatter to make their point to people without annoying them and, to be clear, if they aren’t annoying people then they are simply not very good at protesting.

Saying “simply no way” doesn’t make it so.  They are not annoying their opposition, but their putative supporters, a detail best not ignored.  Awareness is fine, but the association with annoyance (or worse: anybody stuck in traffic need to go to the hospital?) associates awareness with anger and potentially hatred.

That’s why the first Tweet I used is the dumbest: “Yes please, disrupt people who vote from getting home to see their families on Christmas.” If you were inclined to vote for policies that would decrease the killing of black youths, but then changed your mind because some black protesters made you miss your flight… you are a dick.

Maybe they are dicks. So if dicks support you, turn them away?  Better to be supported by dicks than despised by dicks. If your hope is to make them care as deeply about you as you care about you, then you’re crazy. They care about them, just as you care about you. Alienate them and they will still be dicks, and you will fail for lack of support. But at least you can take great pride in having annoyed people. Brilliant plan, if you don’t mind failing.

30 thoughts on “The Long Wait For #BlackLivesMatter (Update x2)

  1. mb

    They have to exist within the system as they find it. Holding cops accountable might save lives, but it isn’t very useful for shaking down companies or government funded entities for money. At the end of the day, the only ones left will be the ones that promise incentives to participate. Not having organized leadership actually magnifies this effect by freeing up the most shameless, self-serving participants to act on their own while claiming the support of the whole.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is why you can’t have nice things. You’re cynical, which is fine, except you’ve attributed malevolence to others without any basis other than your cynicism. This reflects on you, not anyone else. You can’t complain about not being taken seriously when you leap blindly to the negative. It’s not that you’re wrong, but that you have no basis to believe you’re right except your own cynicism. That’s not good enough.

      1. mb

        I don’t mean to attribute malevolence to anyone specifically. I am only pointing out that malevolence is self sustaining as long as people act out of fear. I know I’m not wrong, but I also know that nice things could come about in spite of it. But I’m not optimistic about it. (and it isn’t looking too hot so far)

        Cynical? Yeah.

        1. Levi

          How is blocking an airport terminal “useful for shaking down companies or government funded entities for money”? Given the manifest examples of destructive naivete/stupidity in the post, I’m not seeing how you leap to generalized malevolence. You need some extraordinary support (or, really, any support) to overcome Hanlon’s Razor.

          1. mb

            I don’t think I mentioned any airports. I was talking about the prioritization of feelz (and the attendant lists of demands proliferating throughout the country) over violence. I shouldn’t need to spell out exactly which things associated with #blacklivesmatter support my point in order to avoid your logically deficient assumptions. Learn to read more generously, and grow the fuck up.

  2. Jeremy

    I don’t get why you’re so against disrupting the lives of people not directly involved to bring light to a cause; the difference between making people angry by fucking up their travel plans and making people angry by not letting them get to eat their lunches at the counter is one of degree, not of kind.

    Also, fuck me if this isn’t the most condescending thing you’ve written this year. It’s telling that you use the word “waited” when referring to (what I assume to be) the old guard, since as far as I can see the sum total of progress made after MLK’s death could be politely summed up as “not that much”.

    I agree that this is more likely to harm their cause than hurt it, but unless you marched in Selma they’ve likely made more negative impact than you’ve made any.

    1. SHG Post author

      What worthless, self-indulgent mush. To “bring light to a cause?” How, by making people hate you? By making people who marginally give a shit not give a shit at all. That doesn’t “bring light,” or whatever lie you tell yourself to justify your infantile indulgence. It looses allies, it kills support, it angers people who have their own issues (which you don’t give a shit about, because they don’t matter to you).

      “Condescending”? You bet. That’s how grown-ups talk down to self-indulgent infants. And don’t be so presumptuous as to assume what I’ve done from Selma forward. You, in your first comment, hiding behind a first name, are not in a position to question. I’ve been making black lives matter for almost four decades. Have you been alive that long?

      1. Jeremy

        For the record, I am not a part of BLM, and would appreciate if you didn’t focus your ire against them at me. Like I said in my original comment, this is more likely to harm their cause than help it.

        Now, to get to your comment:
        “[M]aking people hate you”, as you say, has been a part of protesting and civil disobedience since the beginning – were the whites displaced during sit-ins not supposed to be angry for not being able to eat at the counter; was the City of Montgomery not supposed to be angry over its loss of revenue during the bus boycotts? I doubt MLK and John Lewis had many supporters in southern statehouses.

        And people who “marginally give a shit” won’t be much more help when it counts than people who don’t give a shit at all. You think they’d vote for a city councilman, mayor, governor who’d make an honest effort to improve the justice system over one who couldn’t care less but would give them a tax cut? I doubt it.

        Since you think aggravating people who “marginally give a shit” is a bad idea, would it have been better if they’d done it on some middle-of-nowhere street where noone would’ve seen them? What about if instead of remaining stationary at the airport they’d walked to the statehouse? These are sincere questions.

        1. SHG Post author

          Focus attention on those who are doing the harm. Protest the cops. Protest the politicians who protect the cops, provided they are the politicians unwilling to listen to you or do anything about it. Protest the badge bunnies. When you write:

          “[M]aking people hate you”, as you say, has been a part of protesting and civil disobedience since the beginning

          This is misguided simplistic thinking. Making your allies hate you has never been a part of protesting. You protest against the people who are against you, not people who support (or might support) you.

          People who marginally give a shit can be co-opted, made to care more, through positive awareness. Or lost forever (or worse, become your active enemy) by deliberate annoyance (or worse, as there is actual harm that can be done through these misdirected protests). Comparing this to Montgomery or Selma creates an entirely false (and incredibly foolish) analogy; they took to the streets and lunch counters to break the rules in the face of their enemy, not their friends (or at least non-enemies). People who can’t distinguish this significant detail are doomed to fail.

          By the way, the “you” is generic, meaning “not me.” Who you are remains unknown, so you’ve chosen to remove yourself from mattering by your failure to identify your place in all this and hide your identity otherwise, which makes it hard to take you seriously or give a shit about what you feel.

    2. Vin

      I don’t know Jeremy. Awareness absent positive association is not very valuable. Certainly the mission of BLM is an important one that can’t be trivialized by standing in a street to annoy people.

      As for SHG, I don’t know that there are many people on the planet who do more for black Justice than a CDL who is in the trenches every day making sure individuals get justice. Oh, and I also don’t think there is anyone on the planet who writes more on behalf of black lives being lost to bad cop behavior.

      He’s not just holding hands standing in front of cars on one day of the year. He wakes up every day and at least 2 out of 7 days, maybe even 4, he writes about cops killng people. He is committed to actual change, not negative PR.

      And no, I don’t always like him, but I admire the mans work ethic much more so than a few glory hounds who sacraficed a whole half a days time compared to his annual cumulative hourly sacrifice.

      Time will tell if this type of bullshit does anything for the BLM brand, but my guess is it will lead to most people not taking it very seriously.

      1. Jeremy

        The thing is, some people will always be annoyed by protesters no matter what, so does that mean no protesting should ever happen? If it’s okay to annoy people, then is the issue here the sheer number of people who were annoyed by this act? I bet millions of white southerners were not just annoyed, but angered by the efforts of black people during the Civil Rights movement – was that too many, not enough? Maybe it’s because I’ve only participated in one protest in my life, but I don’t see much of a difference between annoying people by standing in a street and annoying people by marching somewhere.

        And perhaps my meaning was lost in my original comment, but I see BLM and SHG on opposite “sides”: the former more proactive, meant to get laws and guidelines changed so violations of rights don’t happen (whether or not they’re actually making this happen); the latter more reactive, meant to redress violations when they do happen. I tend to focus more on the former side, as I’m not too concerned about indicting the cop who killed me when I’m dead.

        1. SHG Post author

          Your views are naïve and simplistic. Being effective requires being smarter than that. What happened here was idiotic and counterproductive. To approach issues with such ridiculously mindless excuses as “some people will always be annoyed by protesters no matter what” may well be the norm. But then, most protests accomplish nothing because they are conducted by people who think like this.

          I have nothing against proactive protest. I have plenty against pointless, damaging and/or counterproductive protest. That’s the side I’m on, but it’s a side you apparently lack the capacity to grasp, or you would have stopped spewing here after your first comment. It takes thought to be effective. Any idiot can be annoying, and usually is.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            What happened here was idiotic and counterproductive.

            Meh. If nothing changes, it’s because they didn’t try hard enough. If things change, it will be solely due to the protest. If things change a little, they need to protest a lot more. If things change a lot they need to bring the idea of reparations back to the table.

            Confirmation bias is a wonderful(ly stupid) thing.

            Merry Christmas anyway.

          2. Jeremy

            Your views are naïve and simplistic.

            I…don’t really disagree with that. That’s why I’m here, trying to glean a little knowledge from someone with real-world experience.

            I have plenty against pointless, damaging and/or counterproductive protest. That’s the side I’m on, but it’s a side you apparently lack the capacity to grasp, or you would have stopped spewing here after your first comment.
            Oh come on, I really am trying to have a good-faith discussion about this and all you want to do is call me a self-indulging, simple-minded child. I understand that you think BLM protesters shutting down an airport is counterproductive and is likely to backfire – I’ve agreed with you on this point multiple times in multiple comments – what I don’t understand is where you’re drawing the line that makes the protest counterproductive.

            I get that keeping people from getting to see their families on Christmas will make virtually everyone turn against you, which is why you likely think this was a bad move, so let’s put the real world aside and move to hypotheticals:

            Say only people who marginally gave a shit were effected by this and this polarized everyone sufficiently that they were either staunchly for or staunchly against BLM afterwards. How many people would have to become staunchly against for it to have been counterproductive – 1? 10? 1000? Should it be expressed in percentages instead – 1%? 5%? If everyone effected turned against BLM except a lawmaker who got a law passed that repealed immunity for cops and prosecutors, created civilian oversight boards with real teeth, etc., would it have still been counterproductive?

            1. SHG Post author

              Oh come on, I really am trying to have a good-faith discussion about this and all you want to do is call me a self-indulging, simple-minded child.

              Your interest in having a good faith discussion assumes you have anything of interest to me worthy of discussion. I’ve already answered your question as to where the line is drawn:

              Focus attention on those who are doing the harm. Protest the cops. Protest the politicians who protect the cops, provided they are the politicians unwilling to listen to you or do anything about it. Protest the badge bunnies.

              But you keep going. I’ve lost interest. I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

        2. Patrick Maupin

          FWIW, there is a small difference between having to go elsewhere for lunch and having to rebook a flight the next day.

          1. SHG Post author

            It’s not just rebook. What do you tell the person flying to see their dying parent or child, who doesn’t get there in time? We don’t know what suffering this caused, but there is a high probability that there was suffering by people who did nothing to deserve to suffer. What if someone was on the way to a hospital and was stuck in the traffic they caused? Why is that life inconsequential? What did that person do to suffer because of some arbitrary choice made by someone who had no right to decide whether someone else lives or dies.

            It’s not just rebook a flight at stake.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              > It’s not just rebook a flight at stake.

              Of course not. I was hoping that a small nudge in the direction of looking at qualitative differences in the lunch counter vs. airport approach might help people think about why they themselves might need to rebook a flight. But you may be right in that if they couldn’t figure it out on their own…

              > What if someone was on the way to a hospital and was stuck in the traffic they caused?

              This may be a bit more subtle than the “not able to reach dying granny on the other side of the country” scenario. If the goal was to disrupt air traffic, and surface traffic is collateral damage, that sounds just about like the dozen or so marathons and other road-tying-up events they hold annually around here. OTOH, I can see the case that, since the actual goal was to disrupt one kind of traffic, they’re fully responsible for disrupting the second kind of traffic as well.

        3. Vincent Messina

          Jeremy, really, at the risk of coming across as an SHG disciple, I must say, first, he is far more proactive than BLM because he’s been doing this long before Ferguson.

          For what you say think and believe to be true to actually be true your BLM movement should have been moving long before Brown and all the others got shot and killed. As far as I can tell, black lives were lost prior to 2015. Why did the BLM become so in 2015?

          SHG has been writing about this since 2007…and has been defending black lives for over 30 years.

          Proactive is what you want then you should be on the side of the dude who hasn’t made this a popular trending hashtag on Twitter. Proactivity that has meaning has stamina. My money is on SHG to be here long after the hashtag fades away and people get tired of holding hands in the street.

  3. Billy

    “I have nothing against proactive protest. I have plenty against pointless, damaging and/or counterproductive protest. ”

    But who decides what is a proactive protest and what isn’t? Who determines whether it’s pointless, damaging or counterproductive? You? The protesters themselves? How do we do that? How can we measure whether a protest is damaging or productive?

    I respectfully disagree with your column but I maintain enough humility to know that the strategic use of protests is messy, complicated and full of questions. You could very well be right – mostly, though, I’m disappointed with the tone of your column. It’s condescending and despite what you claim, it doesn’t read like this was written at all as an attempt to reach people who protest at BLM and try to wise them up. It just feels like you’re raging against them and not constructively criticizing them.

    But I’m not going to argue about tone too much here because its all in the eye of the beholder. I will say that Campaign Zero and other folks have set up specific demands about what they believe police reform should entail and is tied to people in BLM (though I note, with the same frustration you do at how leaderless this all is, that they go to great pains to say they don’t represent the movement). There are reformers tied to this who do possess great focus.

    And with that – Merry Christmas! And to all a good night.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your “who decides” point is a good one. The only answer is that I think this was a horrible idea, and those who decided to do it have decided otherwise. My “rage” is caused by my desire to end the police killings, of black, whites, and every color in between.

      As for tone, you are wise to be cautious (though rather passive-aggressive by pointing out your problem with it, then trying to avoid responsibility after getting your swipe in). I find generational differences to explain much of the tone problem. Kids are a bunch of wusses, and find tone that doesn’t meet their feelz to be unduly harsh.

      So when you say, “it doesn’t read like this was written at all as an attempt to reach people who protest at BLM and try to wise them up,” be careful about assuming that of all the millions of potential readers, it was written to suit your personal sensibilities rather than mine. You are not the measure of my tone, which you acknowledge after enjoying your bout of passive-aggressive rationalization.

      And yes, I am disturbed, because I do not want to see BLM squandered on bullshit microaggressions and alienating the needed widespread public support to put an end to police violence. And whether they like it or not, it will not end until whites and blacks unite to tell police and politicians that this will no longer be tolerated. So when they blow it, they blow it for everyone. We will all suffer if their tactics backfire.

      Merry Christmas.

  4. Matthew, Esquire

    I feel the same way. Running around and shutting down highways and getting angry when politicians say “all lives matter” makes no sense. The only way a real change will occur is if you get white, black, Mexican, Indian Americans to care about what is happening. Because what happens to black americans can and most certainly does happen to other Americans. Change will only occur when the issue is framed so that all Americans care. I think a good start in would be state laws increasing the protections of the 4th Amendment, decriminalization of drugs, voter turn out, and maybe a state law similar to the federal 1983 violation. Otherwise you are just pissing off potential allies and muddying the issues.

  5. Michael

    I’m one of the potential allies Scott wrote about, and the comments from BLM supporters here alienate me even further.

    Thanks to people like Scott and Ken White, I’ve had police abuse on my radar for a few years. If we entrust human beings with the power to enforce our laws and the ability to use force on the general public, including violent force, we need ways to keep an eye on how that force is used. Always giving police the benefit of the doubt leads to spiraling abuses.

    But when I see people shutting down roads, stealing the microphone from events, chanting and screaming so other people can’t hear, I find myself wanting to see MORE police brutality, not less, so long as it’s directed at these vile people. I know in my heart it’s wrong and in a voting booth I would not support these animalistic reactions I feel, but man of man did it destroy any motivation I had to be an ally. I’d rather watch a YouTube video of a motorist plowing over their hand-holding roadblock.

    1. SHG Post author

      To suggest that any conduct makes you want to see “MORE police brutality” is perverse. I assume you are trying to be hyperbolic, because otherwise you’re just being despicable.

  6. Michael

    Sadly, you’re right Scott,it is peverse. As I tried to make clear, I know it’s wrong, but that’s my gut reaction – not something I justify or would vote for.

    When people use force against innocent people, I want to see force used against them.

  7. Tice with a J

    It appears to me that these protesters, along with many others, disagree with you about who the real enemy is. To them, it’s white people. Not the police who kill with impunity, or the justice system that protects officers while railroading commoners, or even the general racism that haunts the American body politic. No, I think they see this as black versus white. That’s why they’ve had such tribal demands for their college protests. That’s why they’re blocking the entire road, preventing all those cars from coming through; after all, those drivers can’t help them – they’re white! For these protesters, this is a race war, and that’s how they intend to fight it.

    Of course, not all white people are the enemy. Some white people are nice enough to be race traitors. You might have seen the Alternet article last week (“The Future of Life Depends on Bringing the 500-Year Rampage of the White Man to a Halt”) which describes how important it is for white people to restrain other whites. You could have been a good race traitor, too, but you kept insisting on equality before the law and such, so you’re clearly siding with the enemy here.

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