Lives Matter

This isn’t going to be popular amongst some of my Facebook friends, but it needs to be said:

The point of “Black Lives Matter” is not to suggest that other lives don’t matter, nor is it to suggest that “black lives matter more“.

Yes, of course police lives matters. Very few people think otherwise. But these facts remain:

  1. For every one million white Americans arrested in 2014, there were 95 white Americans killed by the police.
  2. For every one million black Americans arrested in 2014, there were 138 black Americans killed by the police.
  3. For every one million arrests made in the US in 2014, there were 6 police officers killed.

Yes, of course the number of police officers killed in the line of duty is too high. Very, very few people disagree with that statement.

But in any given arrest, a black civilian is almost 50% more likely to be killed than a white civilian, and that same black person is 2,200% more likely to be killed than a police officer.

So yes, reasonable people all agree that too many police officers are killed in the line of duty every year. And yes, many or maybe even most of the incidents in which police kill civilians are justifiable, whether in self-defense, to protect others, or what have you.

But the disparity between black civilians killed by police and white civilians killed by police is striking. And remember, the difference I’m pointing out is not a result of “higher crime rates amongst African Americans.” Yes, there are socio-economic factors (as well as political and legal factors) that lead to higher crime rates amongst certain populations, and for a variety of reasons these often map to race. Put another way, yes, at least part of the reason African Americans accounted for 28% of arrests last year despite only making up 13% of the population is because African Americans were committing more crimes. There’s more to it than that, but that’s not the point.

Because, you see, that disparity does not explain the disparity in arrest-related deaths. Because the statistics I mentioned above factor that in. Again, for every one million black civilians arrested, 138 black civilians are killed by the police. Within those 28% of arrests made last year, African Americans are being killed by police at a higher rate than whites.

“Black Lives Matter” is about drawing attention to this disparity and seeking to address it. That does not have to be at the expense of addressing other issues, such as the safety of police officers. Indeed, making police officers safer (and just as importantly, making them feel safer) would likely help reduce the number of civilians killed by police every year. Indeed, a cultural bias that attributes greater menace and danger to situations involving African Americans, including a perception that African American youths are older than they actually are, likely contributes to the disparity I keep talking about.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement seeks to draw attention to and address the disparity because for so long it has gone unnoticed and unaddressed, and for too long apathy contributed to the problem. Police lives, by contrast, have long been celebrated in our culture and society (even if not only celebrated). Police are often the heroes in TV and movies, fallen officers are honored, etc. That is not to say that the way our society views police officers, their service, and their sacrifice is perfect. But too often “Police Lives Matter” messages seem to be in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and/or ignoring important differences between the situations each seeks to address.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t post “Police Lives Matter” material, of course that’s your right. I–and most people–agree those lives do matter, a great deal. But by paralleling the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s language in this way, saying “Police Lives Matter” suggests an opposing, even hostile viewpoint. Yes, of course there are those elements within the “Black Lives Matter” movement who are also guilty of hostility towards police and those who advocate for the police, but often it seems the source of misunderstanding and ill-will comes from a misinterpretation of what “Black Lives Matter” means. Not that my interpretation is the only definitive one. I just hope to have explained a little as to why and how reasonable people rally behind the banner of “Black Lives Matter” without any suggestion that any other lives matter any less. Because it’s not about any lives mattering more or less, it’s about making sure that we recognize all lives matter, and remedying situations in which some seem to matter less. If that’s been true of police lives as well, then yes, let’s do something about that as well, but let’s do it in a way to promotes greater understanding. That’s something everybody should want to see happen.