The problem with the All Lives Matter rebuttal
Black Lives Matter: the mantra of a modern-day civil rights movement and the rallying cry of a group that is constantly oppressed, beaten and made powerless.
What started as a hashtag on social media following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, and continued with the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by police officers, has now grown into a powerful and influential social justice movement.
There are a number of regional Black Lives Matter organizations all over the United States, including one in Ithaca. On Oct. 24, the Ithaca chapter held a solidarity march from the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Commons to the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. During the march, demonstrators shouted various chants popular within the Black Lives Matter movement such as, “no justice, no peace” and, “hands up, don’t shoot.” According to the event description, a teach-in was held in the Beverly J. Martin library featuring local activists and residents speaking on issues of violence and discomfort felt by the black community in Ithaca. The intention of the event was to raise awareness about racial inequality in Ithaca.
The Ithaca Black Lives Matter chapter and others across the country hold the same purpose: to combat police brutality against black and brown people and reaffirm the value of all black lives.
Despite the movement’s growth and success in capturing national attention, it has seen constant scrutiny from a crowd of the blissfully unaware: the All Lives Matter movement. Manifested through a hashtag on Twitter as well as a Facebook page, it is this group that argues and questions why Black Lives Matter singles out a particular group of people and firmly believes the movement would benefit more by changing their name to All Lives Matter.
Through this ill-thought-out argument, it is blatantly clear All Lives Matter has no idea what Black Lives Matter stands for or what its goal is. It is also obvious that All Lives Matter is nothing but a racist, insensitive response to a movement that serves to bring attention to and put an end to structural and institutional racism.
The main argument of All Lives Matter primarily centers on the question: “Why do they have to say Black Lives Matter? Why can’t they just say All Lives Matter?” This question has been touted by everyday people and hopelessly clueless politicians such as Republican presidential primary candidates Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.
What these opponents fail to recognize is that Black Lives Matter does not exist to exclude, but rather to bring attention to and value the lives of people who are constantly excluded by a society built on white supremacy. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not take away value from other groups of people, but brings attention to a group that is constantly marginalized and oppressed.
Shouting “All Lives Matter,” and using the #AllLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter only serves to drag attention away from the very real and dangerous problems Black Lives Matter is attempting to address.
It ignores the evidence from The Guardian’s police killings database titled “The Counted” that blatantly shows black lives are taken by law enforcement at a higher rate per capita than whites — 5.53 blacks per million to 2.2 whites per million — even though All Lives Matter will argue more total whites are killed by police, a claim that ignores the fact that white people vastly outnumber black people in the overall U.S. population. And according to the FBI’s investigation of justifiable homicides from 2005 to 2012, a white officer used deadly force against a black person almost twice every week, but All Lives Matter will conveniently ignore this and continue to defend the actions of law enforcement in cases of excessive force.
While the premise of Black Lives Matter focuses on ending police brutality and how to restructure the racist system that inherently destroys black bodies, All Lives Matter’s dialogue serves as a denial that black people truly suffer through these hardships. Countering Black Lives Matter with the response “All Lives Matter” is a divestment from responsibility, a refusal to believe the system works to benefit whites and not people of color. This reaction further obscures issues of race in this country. Given that All Lives Matter is the complete antithesis of Black Lives Matter, it must be difficult for All Lives Matter proponents to really understand the purpose of Black Lives Matter since they do not know what it’s truly like to live as a black person in the U.S. It is this lack of understanding and awareness that stems from the privilege of being able to have the color of their skin work for them and not against them.
Perhaps the greatest test of All Lives Matter occurred when 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed by a police officer on July 26 of this year. Once again, another teen was unnecessarily murdered by law enforcement. However, this case presented an interesting caveat not found in the cases of Michael Brown or Samuel DuBose: Hammond was a white teenager. Here was the golden opportunity for All Lives Matter to save face and prove their validity as the “better alternative” to Black Lives Matter. Hammond’s death was scarcely reported by mainstream media outlets and only became widespread when it became a trending topic on Twitter. But which group spread awareness on his death?
Black Lives Matter.
Using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, users were able to bring attention to Hammond’s death, and their anger and rage at this continuing trend was more than palpable. In addition to Hammond’s death, the Black Lives Matter crowd made sure not to overlook the glaring question everyone was asking: Where was All Lives Matter to support Zachary Hammond, and why were they being so silent?
It was the pressing silence that spoke volumes about All Lives Matter, exposing the movement as nothing more than an ignorant, simpleminded reaction to Black Lives Matter. The telling silence could also be prescribed to the movement’s reticence in admitting that police brutality is a national issue in need of reform. If Hammond’s death was unjustified and the officer was in the wrong, then so too were the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the 231 total black bodies who have been killed by law enforcement in 2015 as of Nov. 1, according to The Guardian’s database. But All Lives Matter refuses to admit this, because it would mean facing white supremacy head-on instead of pretending it no longer exists.
Some critics of Black Lives Matter believe the movement should not only focus on the police killings of black people, but black-on-black violence as well. While statistics from the FBI’s annual Crime in the Unites States report do indicate there is a high level of black-on-black violence — 90 percent of blacks murdered in 2013 were murdered by other blacks — it’s important to note that the premise of the Black Lives Matter movement focuses on the racial trickle-down of institutionalized racism.
Black Lives Matter looks more at police brutality against blacks because it is both a product and one of the causes of systemic racism in the U.S. When a black man or woman is caught committing a violent crime against another black person, that individual is usually sentenced to years in prison. But when a white police officer commits a violent crime against a black man or woman, many times they suffer zero judicial consequences. One need only look at Darren Wilson and Timothy Loehmann to see these events transpiring in this country today.
Furthermore, the high homicide rates in predominantly black and impoverished neighborhoods can be attributed to the racial homogeneity of communities — a product of structural racism itself. Blacks are confined to racially segregated neighborhoods because of tactics like blockbusting — the practice of introducing black homeowners into neighborhoods that were predominantly white in order to prompt white people to leave and housing prices to drop — at the hands of real estate agents. Black children also receive a lower quality education than whites, and the War on Drugs disproportionately targets black neighborhoods. All these issues harbored within the “projects” or the “ghettos” are symptoms of the disease of systemic racism.
Black Lives Matter is not only focused on ending police brutality, but also on affirming lives along the gender spectrum, including black transgender and queer people. Within the black community, this group is constantly marginalized and experiences a high rate of violence against them, leading to a life expectancy of only 35 years old according to the Black Lives Matter website. The movement makes sure the names of Penny Proud, Lamia Beard, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja DeJesus and Ty Underwood, all black transgender people who were killed within the first five weeks of 2015, are heard loud and clear. Unsurprisingly, All Lives Matter ignores the stories of these people, lending more power to white feminism and its knack for silencing the voices of women of color and trans/queer folks.
The impact of Black Lives Matter on the country’s racial conscience cannot be overlooked, as its strong presence online and in the streets has shed a harsh light on racial issues permeating the country today. For people who play the colorblind card and pretend racial tensions are an issue of the past, Black Lives Matter reminds them that racism has not ended, but evolved. When these people say the Ku Klux Klan may not be lynching black bodies as they once were, Black Lives Matter reminds them that police officers are killing black men and women at an alarmingly high rate. When those who claim color-blindness say blacks have more opportunities than ever before, Black Lives Matter reminds them of various government policies — Voter ID laws, the War on Drugs, gentrification — that have a negative impact on black communities. Black Lives Matter reminds these people that racism is not only individual, but structural, built and upheld by the most powerful group in society — white people.
It is clear that All Lives Matter does not really believe in valuing all lives, but is rather a form of resistance against believing that black lives and experiences have value and deserve to be validated. This ignorant response claims colorblindness and inherently ignores the socialization of race instilled in people at a young age. From the power of various institutions, individuals are normalized into believing that certain beliefs about racial groups are true without any valid evidence to support them. The socialization of race leads to implicit biases that influence people to believe that black is dangerous and white is safe. The profound ignorance of the colorblind card ignores how race plays an influential factor in how much value is placed on an individual’s life. It ignores how the color of a person’s skin can determine whether they live or die.
This is why Black Lives Matter exists.
In a society where black bodies are constantly devalued, Black Lives Matter exists to reaffirm their worth. Perhaps saying “Black Lives Matter” makes All Lives Matter proponents feel uncomfortable because it forces them to recognize their own ignorance and acknowledge the violence being waged against the black community. Nevertheless, it is high time for All Lives Matter to let go of its ignorance, acknowledge its privilege and recognize Black Lives Matter as a movement seeking to empower the black community and end the constant killings, abuse and vilification of black bodies.
Celisa Calacal is a sophomore journalism major with a minor in reminding people that racism still exists. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.