Black Lives Matter Backlash Gets Real

This week, Bill O’Reilly asked if anti-black-racism protest movement Black Lives Matter should be labeled a hate group. O’Reilly is part of the conservative pushback the movement is experiencing this week. 
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In the Black Lives Matter movement, the only “weapons” protesters wield are their mouths, but you wouldn’t know that from the way the activists and organizers are being spoken about by some in the press.

Suddenly, Fox News pundits are talking as if Black Lives Matter is responsible for a recent shooting of a police officer in Texas (despite the fact that the police themselves don’t have a motive for the killing), and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly this week called for Black Lives Matter to be labeled a “hate group.” Others who have written about race and police brutality have had their personal lives questioned and attacked. Conservatives are bombarding media email boxes (like ours) with accusations that the social-justice collective is encouraging violence against police, pointing to a recent protest in St. Paul, Minn., where some gatherers chanted, “Pigs in a blanket; fry them like bacon.”


Because the movement is bigger than any one group, this means that sometimes individuals may say or, in this case, chant things that don’t follow the messaging of the Black Lives Matter network, the organization born out of the movement’s founders. It’s a problem, but even this “problem” is not a call to violence; it is not even violent rhetoric, when compared with the invective often spewed at protesters. It’s an unfortunate gaffe, made all the more pitiful in comparison with Black Lives Matters’ critics, critics who often conflate peaceful protesters’ calls for an end to police violence with something no one has called for: the death of, or other harm to, police officers.

In a statement released Thursday, the Black Lives Matter network said the following:

The Black Lives Matter network seeks to end the system of policing that allows for unchecked violence against black people. Right-wing portrayals of this as targeting of individual police are deliberate distortions to derail growing public debate about white supremacy, the ongoing epidemic of violence against black people, and the need to end institutionalized racism in the policing and criminal-justice systems.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. To be against police violence isn’t to be against “the police” as an institution; it’s to be against the lopsided injustice often handed to African Americans in their interactions with the police. It’s to be against the systemic racism that taints the institution. It’s to be against the “good” police officers, who, instead of speaking out against their more dangerous colleagues, give their silence as a form of consent to black death. It is to be against precisely and exactly violence, the specific, deadly violence that some police officers have inflicted upon unarmed African Americans.

When protesters are attacked—whether it is by the same system tasked with protecting them in the form of the police or in the persecutory tone of the pundit class—it is an attack on our most vulnerable at the hands of those with the most privilege and power. The police have more to fear from car accidents and self-inflicted gunfire than from protesters. And the likes of Bill O’Reilly—often white, male, educated and well-heeled—are hardly under any threat to their lives or treasures when they confuse someone demanding their freedom with a hate-mongering opportunist.


In fact, they can confuse one for the same and experience no more consequence than a few angry tweets, rudely interrupting yet another blissful day in 1-percenter paradise. It’s a Faustian bargain they have made, but we’re the ones who pay for it. The deaths of African Americans are treated as the “logical” consequence of “protecting” a white populace from … what, exactly?

What lurks in the feverish, fiery imaginations of individuals who believe that their safety comes with a side of black corpses? Nat Turner and his rebellion died long ago. Every mass means by which blacks have pursued equality in this country since the Civil War has come through nonviolent measures—no matter how violent the response was in opposition to them. Yet this is what the silence of an O’Reilly metaphorically buys when he ignores the deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice or 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, or that of countless other African Americans who were unarmed when killed by police.


They’re against Black Lives Matter because, to them, black lives do not matter. Black voices do not matter. Black pain does not matter. Black protest does not matter. It is a nuisance and a menace that must be silenced so we can return to a status quo where the police are always right, even when they are dangerously wrong.

Don’t let the backlash fool you. It’s never been about “all” lives. It’s about everyone’s silence. Don’t let their desire for privileged comfort disrupt a more pertinent need for our lives to be valued.

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