Black Voices Save Black Lives: Don’t Blow It

The movement by hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, was born following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. But the momentum shifted markedly after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson by Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Since then, a series of killings by police of young black men, from Eric Garner to Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald and others, have accomplished something that decades of allegations, before there was video to eliminate the inherent doubt, failed to do.  Cops kill blacks without justification and in grossly disproportionate numbers. One can quibble over details, but there’s no argument to be made that the body in the street isn’t dead.

Video gave rise to traction that never before existed.  It’s not that it didn’t happen before, but that no one believed it.  Video changed that. The excuses didn’t work when we could see for ourselves that they were lies.

For those of us who were constrained to argue to judges that the impossible was real, that sometimes cops just killed for no good reason, this changed things. Not everything, as the dead were still dead, but at least it was undeniable that the usual excuse (“why would a cop do such a terrible thing if he didn’t have to?”) was no longer good enough.

And after the killing of Michael Brown, people took to the streets of Ferguson to protest. And that too was caught on video, showing how police used weapons to try to silence, if not arrest or kill, the protesters.  What happened in Ferguson captured the American consciousness, in large part because everyone saw it. In large part because it offended our fundamental belief that the protesters were exercising their rights as Americans to protest.  In large part because of free speech.

Black Lives Matter became a movement all people of good conscience could support, and there was, for the first time ever, a consensus that the killing was happening, that the killing must stop.

And then, it started to fall down the rabbit hole. If I was inclined to wear a tin foil hat, I might surmise that evil forces infiltrated the movement, to morph the message from black lives to black feelings, to transgender feelings, to trivial, infantile feelings.

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.

While the Black Lives Matter movement was organic, there were also three women who decided they were in charge of it when they bought the URL and credited themselves with ownership (under a tab called “herstory”).  Their mission included black lives matter. It also included transgender matters, women matters, ageism matters, and all things warm and fuzzy.

We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.

Sounds nice.  But then there’s video, the same video that gave life to the movement that morphed from an issue that grabbed a nation by its throat to the myriad unrelated issues that had nothing to do with black lives mattering. If this was a government conspiracy to destroy support for Black Lives Matter, it couldn’t have been executed better.

Then again, those who decided to seize the hashtag for their own purposes didn’t need much pushing to destroy it.  Because video.

The existence of a serious movement to save the lives of black folks from being killed by police cannot happen without free speech. The cops didn’t want the nation to watch your protests in Ferguson. They don’t want you to see videos of them mowing down young black men in Chicago. They want to silence your speech.

And you want to silence speech too?

The movement is no monolith. No one was elected Queen, and no “chapter” was authorized to make Black Lives Matter all about racially segregated puppy rooms.  The actions in the video at Cal State Los Angeles do not reflect what people risked their lives for walking the streets of Ferguson while police sharpshooters atop armored vehicles had their body mass in their sights.

But when they use the hashtag, the name, as their excuse to not only silence speech, but employ force in doing so, the good will, the public outrage, the opportunity to finally end the presumption that every black is a criminal, that a black person isn’t worthy of surviving an encounter with a cop. So they undermine the legitimacy of the movement.

Movements are hard to control. People are hard to control. But speech?  That’s easy. You need it. I need it. We all need it, if we are to be able to speak out against the government.  The vitality of Black Lives Matter demands free speech.  The Black Lives Matter movement should be at the forefront of free speech, for without it, you disappear.

When someone, some group, tries to silence free speech in your name, they destroy everything you’ve accomplished.  Don’t let them destroy a movement. Free speech matters, and Black Lives depend on it.

15 thoughts on “Black Voices Save Black Lives: Don’t Blow It

  1. Patrick Maupin

    FWIW, some people claiming to speak on behalf of BLM are now taking Apple’s side in the fight against the FBI, which I find eminently reasonable and refreshing.

    1. SHG Post author

      What is that worth? I can understand why a group challenging the police would appreciate the ability to maintain privacy from the police, but given the diffusion of purpose and belief, there doesn’t seem to be any focus or limits on what they movement stands for or why, reducing it to meaninglessness. Maybe BLM sees itself as some grand force to be reckoned with. It’s going to be very sad when it finds out.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        BLM does a lot of things that are unfocused, sure, but a baseline assumption that smartphones won’t yield any information whatsoever could change things in a positive way, I think. Maybe the cops will actually have to talk to people to get information.

        1. SHG Post author

          No, this doesn’t suddenly become a discussion about smartphones and police investigatory methods. Seems like BLM isn’t the only thing unfocused around here.

  2. Erik H.

    Has anyone seen a link to a summary of the video? I can’t bring myself to watch it. But these days a lot of SJ sites post summaries.

    1. John Barleycorn

      Little boy Ben, born in ’84, was going to lay down some musings while reflecting on going the orthodox way today, with Harvard out of the way, but he was not able to get to the part about parting your hair for yearbook flair.

      There were some bongos, a pretty week horn section that gave it a whirll, and guy wearing a bow tie. No cherries or pie to top things off, but instead some  placid peaches in cream via. the day after interviews, under pastel blues, trying to frame the red in the eyes of the victims of the victims trying to unravel the rattling of the babbling nerves without too much reflection on how best a bespoke suit of coal should be worn, or how to get the best view when riding atop the coal car.

      The “free speech matters” chants were pretty cute but where is the chute when the shutters are clicking in tune to the chants?

      No one present seemed interested in climbing the flag pole or jockeying amonghst the masses for the long exposure shot in search of the perfect angle to capture the anticipation of the annoyed or the apex of the anointed ones hollow howling.

      Someone should have dosed the punch bowl  but there was no punch bowl to dose.

        1. John Barleycorn

            ♡”I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
          Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

          “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

           “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

           “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

           “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

          Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot!
          Impenetrability! That’s what Isay!”♧

          I will spring for an entire floor of hotel rooms if someone else covers the bar tabs, and someone else does the organizing and convinces fifty to sixty “old” people that dressing up in Humpty Dumpty suits and showing up at these sort of events could be more than just a fun way to spend the weekend.

            1. John Barleycorn

              I am not organizing the Humpty Dumpty Paratroopers; Peoples Pulse Parade Tour.

              I am just bankrolling the barracks.

              But I heard this woman will be putting on a ‘How To’ seminar after dinner the first night for those Humpty Dumptys that have never mastered the art of delivering nursery rhymes.


              If she doesn’t travel with a punch bowl or two I would be seriously surprised. But just to be on the safe side you should have one of these lawyers around here check out her contract and or offer up your candy man services if she regularly contracts that service out and it is not included in her regular nursery rhyme training seminar fee.

  3. Lawrence Kaplan

    What is ironic is that just as police beat victims while saying “don’t resist arrest,” so these thugs on the video were saying “no violence ” while inflicting violence .

  4. OEH

    While the benefits of video have been huge, sadly still only a minority of white Americans believe that black people receive worse treatment by police (37% according to a Pew poll).

    Black Americans realize that white sympathy is and always has been a pipe dream, and that safety from police violence still requires a degree of power — power to go into court, power to sit as a judge or a juror, power to prosecute, and power to write the press release. I suspect many of the more playful antics of BLM protesters are actually a way of saying “we have the power to look like assholes and not get gunned down for it (like we would have been 50 years ago).” It’s a sort of rallying cry directed at younger black people and doesn’t really translate to an older white audience.

    1. SHG Post author

      First, if you’re going to throw a statistic against the wall to make people stupider, you have to at least explain what exactly the statistic says, what it’s context is and use it in conjunction with comparable commentary. You don’t, thus killing brain cells. Don’t make people stupider.

      If what you’re ineptly trying to say is most whites don’t appreciate that blacks are treated differently by the police, that’s not the juxtaposition to most whites don’t think unarmed blacks should be murdered by cops for no reason. They’re completely different issues. Your simplistic conflation of the two is noted.

      Second, when did you get elected to speak for black Americans? Do all black Americans “realize” the same thing? Are black Americans not human being, capable of independent thought? Are all black Americans simplistic idiots incapable of any depth of thought? Your racism toward black Americans isn’t appreciated.

      As for what they’re “trying to say,” if you’re correct (and I doubt your are), then what’s your point? That they’re merely idiots playing an infantile game at the expense of other black American’s lives? Is that supposed to be an excuse? Is it acceptable that they are giving away the lives of some black Americans to fight for the use of personal pronouns by others? And this is acceptable?

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