Wesley Lowery asks a question that has been at the forefront of my concerns about reform for years.
Police are still killing black people. Why isn’t it news anymore?
His subtitle provides a hint as to the answer.
The activism never stopped. But the attention to it vanished.
He assumes, wrongly, that the “activism” was the reason people cared, people paid attention. For a brief, shining moment, following a list of names of unarmed/innocent black people being killed by police for no cognizable reason, people gave a damn. Not just activists, but people. White people. black people, green people. People.
No decent person could shrug off a needless killing of a human being by police, and no decent person could ignore that cops were killing black people at a disproportionate rate.* It didn’t have to be a struggle between cops killing black people versus killing white people, as there was an overarching recognition that cops shouldn’t be killing unarmed innocent people regardless of color. And ending the killing was one thing everyone could agree upon.
So what happened to this bright, shining moment when there was near-universal agreement that this killing couldn’t go on?
Police violence — beatings, Taserings, killings — and criminal justice reform more broadly were arguably the leading domestic news storyline during the final two years of the Obama administration. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and others dominated headlines, inspired nationwide protests and brought on a pro-law-enforcement backlash that helped elect President Trump. Now the issue has all but vanished from the national political conversation.
Lowery snuck in a little squint in this paragraph that may reflect his perspective, but diverts attention. There was a pro-law enforcement backlash, and we can add it to the ever-growing list of things that helped Trump get elected, along with Comey, the Russians, the deplorables, but to suggest this had anything to do with the disappearance of concern from the “national political conversation” is so myopic as to be absurd.
Still, Trump is very much a part of the answer.
The first of several reasons policing reform has lost our national attention is obvious: Trump. The election of a reality television host under a cloud of Russian interference — whose White House is plagued by scandals, constant turnover, policy reversals, leaks and staff infighting — is deservedly the drama at center stage.
So many have obsessed over his every twit, his every firing, his every idiotic statement, screaming how the sky would fall, that it drowned out anything of significance. All noise, no signal. And no, it doesn’t deserve center stage unless it’s actually about something real. Every twit shouldn’t make heads explode, as almost all dissipate within hours and go nowhere. But the Resistance just can’t control itself, and the media obsesses over each burp and fart as if they matter.
As Lowery notes, Trump has no interest in police reform, which amazingly surprises some people. Then again, neither did Obama, on whose watch all these killings occurred and, despite his post-hoc exaltation, did almost nothing to help. If the guy who is supposed to support reform does nothing, are we surprised that the dumb guy antagonistic to reform does nothing?
Among other complicating factors is that, while police shootings have continued, the number of unarmed people being killed has dipped and therefore so has the number of videos of such shootings that galvanize the public.
Whether this is true, or relevant, is immaterial as it comes after the fact. Maybe cops are doing better. Maybe people are still being killed but there’s no video, because without video we still give the cops the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe it misses the point entirely, since we had the video, we had the names, we saw cops gun down black guys in the street like dogs and didn’t need to be convinced again that this was unacceptable.
But the “activisim” that didn’t stop was what killed the momentum, the brief, shining moment when Americans of all colors, all creeds, realized that the killing had to stop. Long before anybody could have taken a Trump candidacy seriously, the activists blew it.
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.
Having spent much of my career fighting cops harming people, particularly black and brown kids, it was brutal to watch this movement commit suicide.
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.
They just couldn’t control themselves. The activists outraged at some white girl wearing hoop earrings, or god forbid, corn rows, turned their backs on cops killing black guys. And the coalition of humanity that was infuriated by the actions of Reasonably Scared Cops killing unarmed, innocent people pre-emptively lost its steam and went back to wondering how to feed their kids.
For that brief and shining moment, Americans were galvanized to put an end to cops needlessly killing innocent unarmed people. And then the activists lost their shit over Cinco de Mayo parties and bad sex regerts, and everyone went back to worrying about their own lives because people just didn’t care about microaggressions, melting snowflakes or sad feelz. And that too helped elect Trump, as well as explain why cops killing black guys is no longer in the news.
*Some fools thought it worthwhile to argue that cops kill more white guys than black guys. Who cares? Cops killing unarmed innocent people was the problem, and fixing it would mean all unarmed innocent people would survive, regardless of race.