Is it possible to mourn the deaths of the five Dallas police officers and still continue the movement for black lives? This is something we can and must do, as we have no other choice. It’s just too important to stop now.
The ambush-style killing of these public servants by a deranged gunman this past week was horrific and devastating. From what we know and have been told, the alleged gunman, Micah X. Johnson, was an Army Reserve veteran who had been stationed in Afghanistan. He was reportedly upset about the killing of black people by police and wanted to kill white people, particularly white officers, we are told.
— New Day (@NewDay) July 9, 2016
This gunman’s 14 victims — both murdered and injured — were white, black and Latino. And he took advantage of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest — an affirmation of black life, in which protesters and police were coexisting — to take lives and ruin lives. He destroyed families, created widows and made babies fatherless. David Brown, the Dallas police chief, knows all too well what was lost this week. As someone who lost his brother and former partner to gun violence, and whose only son fatally shot a police officer and was killed by police, the weight of the world is on this man’s shoulders amid a cycle of violence, and yet he leads with a steady hand.
Tragedy fell upon Dallas, a city noted for the strides it has made in community policing, during a week in which two black men — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. — were also viciously murdered by police, the unspeakable crimes against them caught on cellphone cameras and transmitted virally through social media.
Let us not forget the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was formed by a group of young black women in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin. This peaceful movement calls for justice, transparency and accountability, seeks to transform policing in America, and demands that Black Lives Matter, in a nation where black bodies have been devalued and desecrated since day one. And they seek coalitions with allies to fight anti-black racism and bring people together in the name of justice.
“This is a tragedy — both for those who have been impacted by yesterday’s attack and for our democracy,” the group said on its website, speaking of the Dallas ambush shooting. “There are some who would use these events to stifle a movement for change and quicken the demise of a vibrant discourse on the human rights of Black Americans. We should reject all of this.”
“Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us,” the group added.
The narrative of reactionary white conservatism — a racist creation of rightwing talk radio, Tea Party extremists and political opportunists — paints the Black Lives Matter movement as part of the problem, which is like blaming the messenger. Having absolutely no interest in the plight of African-Americans, they seek to kill the messenger, wipe out the movement and silence its voice by labeling it as a bunch of cop killers.
Back in the day, these people called Martin Luther King and the civil rights workers troublemakers and labeled Malcolm X and the Black Panthers as terrorists. And the media have perpetuated these false images of black protest. As Malcolm so eloquently said, “This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
And it is the criminalization of black people that Black Lives Matter seeks to end. But people such as Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick would scapegoat the movement. “Too many in the general public who aren’t criminals but have a big mouth are creating situations like we saw last night,” Patrick told Fox News, hardly known for its sensitivity to black issues. “All those protesters last night, they ran the other way expecting the men and women in blue to turn around and protect them — what hypocrites!”
“I do blame people on social media with their hatred toward police,” he added. “I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests.”
The false notion that one must choose between supporting the police or standing up for black lives demonstrates the need for a black protest movement at this moment in time. Far too often a militarized occupying force in African-American and Latino communities — with no ties or stake in those communities — the police at their worst view themselves as separate and apart from black people. We are not served and protected by those police who are protected for their brutality. Rather, we are monitored, contained, subdued and killed when necessary, in the way that the slave patrols brought a reign of terror to slaves on the plantation.
Today, police still behave as twenty-first century slave patrols. And black folks are expendable. If you need proof of it, just look at what happened to Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice and so many others. Law enforcement as it has been presented to us must be reformed, removed or replaced, because this simply is not working well for us. And changing this unjust system with all of its racial inequities is the only way to make the country right.
So, we mourn these police officers in Dallas, but the movement for the lives of millions of black people must go on.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove