Attention politicians: Black Lives Matter activists need justice, not lectures about 'tone'

Gov. Nikki Haley, and all other politicians, take note: It is not your job to tell the Black Lives Matter movement what it should or should not do.

Black people do not need lectures; they need justice.

At a press conference at the National Press Club, Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina covered a number of things, including how South Carolina and the South in general are not racist, and how she believes black protest is endangering black lives.

“I tell you that now to say this: long before the racially charged events of this summer, I would not have been elected Governor of South Carolina if our state was a racially intolerant place. And I would not have won the Republican primary if we were a racially intolerant party,” Haley said. “Today there truly is a New South. It is different in many ways, perhaps most especially in its attitudes toward race, “ she added.

What really stood out was the governor’s comments on the unrest following the killing of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Baltimore. She seemed to care more about the fact that there was “senseless” rioting than the fact black men — in this case Michael Brown and Freddie Gray — had been killed.

“You know what: black lives do matter,” Haley said. “Most of the people killed or injured in the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore were black. Think about it.”

“Most of the small businesses or social service institutions that were destroyed and looted in Ferguson and Baltimore were either black owned or served heavily black populations,” she said. “Most of the people who now live in terror because local police are too intimidated to do their jobs are black.”

According to Gov. Haley, “Black lives do matter, and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that has laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore.” She used South Carolina as an example, where there were no riots following the removal of the Confederate flag after the Charleston massacre. “We didn’t have violence, we had hugs,” she argued.

The governor urged everyone to “turn down the volume level,” as some people “think that you have to yell and scream in order to make a difference.”

How condescending it is for a politician to tell suffering, oppressed people how to respond to their victimization, that they should engage in their activism in a docile, peaceful, and non-threatening manner — to white folks, that is.  Often, it is the purpose of politicians such as Gov. Haley — one of a few faces of color in a hostile Republican Party — to appease white privilege by insisting racism does not exist, and blaming the victims for any misfortunes they face.

America remains a hostile environment for black people. The South Carolina of which Nikki Haley speaks is home to a host of hate groups, including two chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, four white nationalist groups, and various neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And the South is still a place where black women such as Sandra Bland are arrested for nothing in particular and wind up dead in a jail cell, and black men such as Walter Scott are shot in the back like a runaway slave.

Ironically, Haley’s statement is a prime example of why black people are shouting in the first place and refuse to remain silent. But she is by no means alone in talking down to this new movement, as many politicians have fallen into the same trap.

For example, Ben Carson wrote in USA Today that #BlackLivesMatter is focused on the wrong targets, to the detriment of the black community. Other Republicans, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz are blaming the movement and even President Obama for anti-police rhetoric that they say is endangering and even killing police officers. Donald Trump even welcomed a physical confrontation with black activists.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was accused of victim-blaming and lecturing #BlackLivesMatter activists who were shut out of a New Hampshire campaign event. And Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have had their confrontations and missteps with black activists as well.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement seeks policy proposals and platform agendas, partnerships and empathy from others. Black protesters have put police violence on blast, and they want fundamental change to a system that preys on their community, unresponsive and unaccountable. Law enforcement can only benefit from reforms that improve police-community relations. These activists do not need lectures about their tone or approach.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove