Dangerous Days, the Pragmatics of #BlackLivesMatter

I have never had more fear for our nation than in the past week, and because of that, I’d like to speak directly, to whatever audience I may have, about what I see as the hard pragmatic realities of the situation in which we find ourselves.

First, to my fellow black Americans: A shared, sustained moral commitment to nonviolence remains our best and only real protection, as a minority, against the legitimization of violence committed against us by the majority. There are those in this country who would like nothing better than to blame us for the end of the long ceasefire purchased with the blood of the members of the civil rights movement.

Trading “hands up, don’t shoot!” for “fists up, fight back!” was tried once before. And if we read our history, we learn that the entire leadership of the original Black Panther Party was terminated efficiently, illegally, ruthlessly, and with extreme prejudice, just as soon as it was perceived as a credible threat. The concept of being able to achieve, through show of force, any other end is a naive fantasy and a dangerous one. Don’t be fooled, the recent movie Django Unchained (in which a righteous black hero slaughtered racist whites with impunity) was a pure work of fiction (and one created, I am convinced, by someone who is no true friend to the black American community).

To #BlackLivesMatter: I consider myself a member of this movement, and I respect the important work those on the front lines have done in bringing injustices to the attention of many people who would have otherwise remained blind to it. As a pragmatic matter, I believe:

  • The movement needs to focus more on its concrete and specific goals, as was effectively done by the civil rights movement. Otherwise we will be unlikely to channel the tremendous wave of support and the collective frustrations of those inspired by the movement into peaceful, positive and productive ends.
  • In the wake of Dallas, it’s time to make peace with the “#AllLivesMatter” slogan, and to treat those who employ it as potential allies rather than as enemies –let them say it, and then hold them to it. I do understand the critical importance of specifically affirming our own human worth (in the face of so many denials of it), but we can’t succeed in our goals by preaching only to the choir, or by keeping others out of the church. Otherwise, “Black Lives Matter” will be portrayed –is already being portrayed –as a movement of “only black lives matter” by its real enemies. We cannot afford let our momentum be redirected into a fight of one “Lives Matter” movement versus another.  That plays only into the hands of those who neither say “all lives matter” nor believe it.

To Police and Local Governments: You absolutely cannot do your work under circumstances where you have lost the public trust in general, or the trust of any one segment of the population –unless you are committed to the prospect of an all-out war with that segment of the population. It is absolutely necessary –pragmatically speaking –for each and every single police force to take immediate and publicly visible concrete steps –recruiting more diverse officers, creating new training programs, purchasing body cameras, holding community meetings, revisiting or revising philosophies of enforcement, etcetera –to make absolutely sure the events we’ve all seen in so many recent and horrific cases do not continue to occur. To do otherwise puts both the safety of your officers and the good of your communities at risk.

To Conservative Commentators: It is vitally important for you (as I’m glad to see you have done so far) to swiftly rein in the worst offenders on your side from making inflammatory comments linking our nation’s President to violence against the police. If some mentally unhinged person took statements like that too seriously, to the point of taking action into his or her own hands, the country would be all but guaranteed to fly apart in a manner that might result in it being a long span of many years before any one among us feels safe in our own country again.  This is not a game that any of us should want to play.

To Gun Rights Activists: It’s time to face up to the fact that under current laws in many places, nearly anyone can purchase a weapon that can effectively and efficiently kill large numbers of people, and carry it openly in public. It’s impossible to argue that that situation did not make it all too easy for the Dallas sniper to secure the firepower necessary to carry out his anti-police plans. You argue that the gun is just a tool, but we as a nation are doing next to nothing to keep that tool out of the wrong hands.

In Conclusion: Martin Luther King is honored so highly in this country, above nearly any other single figure, not because of what he did for black people, but because of what he did for Americans of all races, ethnicities and religious. He was the architect of a movement that prevented an all out race war by negotiating a peaceful end to the worst atrocities of the segregationist ideology. He helped the nation as a whole take a giant moral step forward. It is important that we all together build on his work, so that we continue to view it as the start of a lasting new era for the nation –and not as simply securing a fifty year lull in the hostilities.

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