Sometimes, arguing with ignorant folk—or those who intentionally choose not to “get it”—can be frustrating, if not downright exhausting.
Reading the remarks from Harris County, Texas, Sheriff Ron Hickman in the wake of the death of county Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth might leave most confused. While we may all agree that what appears to have been a senseless act of violence committed against Goforth is indeed beyond tragic, to suggest that “rhetoric” surrounding the worth of black lives and the #BlackLivesMatter movement might somehow be responsible for this is irresponsible and curiously obtuse. Presently, there has been no motive identified and nothing to suggest that Shannon Miles, Goforth’s alleged killer, acted with any connection or impetus related to #BlackLivesMatter.
To be fair, Hickman’s tactics are nothing new. We have seen this sort of rhetoric from law enforcement before. Following the equally tragic death of two New York City Police Department officers last year, former police-union President Pat Lynch accused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of having “blood on his hands” after de Blasio sympathized with New Yorkers who were outraged about the death of Eric Garner by NYPD officers. In an equally quizzical move, on Monday, GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas made a similar statement, blaming President Barack Obama for Goforth’s death.
Hickman’s not-so-subtle pushback move and others like it are all attempts to discredit the #BlackLivesMatter movement by seeking to blur the lines between being uncompromisingly in favor of safety for black people versus radically (even irrationally) responding to law enforcement with random acts of violence. In suggesting “we drop the qualifiers” in favor of all lives mattering, Hickman has passive-aggressively tried to undermine the spirit of #BlackLivesMatter and get us to basically stop the blood clot cryin’.
Le sigh. A couple of things here:
1. Being anti-police brutality does not inherently make you anti-police.
In fact, common sense dictates that where law enforcement has been doing its job appropriately, those two conversations should have little or no connection other than the word “police.” One can be in support of the police and completely against police abuses without any sense of conflict at all. To suggest that those concepts are incongruent is to argue that law enforcement can’t do its own job without brutalizing innocent people, which of course, makes no sense.
We have seen on more than one occasion police shamefully using tragic and unfortunate incidents like Goforth’s killing to advance the notion that being critical of illegal, unethical and racist tactics is somehow an endorsement of crime in our communities or a suggestion that violence against cops is OK. Not only are such conclusions illogical, but neither could be any further from the truth. However, with the nation’s discourse (finally) shining the spotlight on illicit police practices that have disproportionately affected communities of color for decades, it seems that any chance to get off the hot seat is a good one. The fact remains that the conversations on supporting cops, but being intolerant of police brutality, can and should remain mutually exclusive of each other.
2. We aren’t going away and we aren’t going to shut up.
It is interesting to note Hickman’s comment about the “rhetoric” around the country getting “out of control.” #BlackLivesMatter is, among many other things, a movement that is anti-police brutality and advocates for fair treatment by law enforcement, suggesting that cops can do their jobs without killing innocent people. I’m sorry that the radical notion that blacks who have chosen to be vocal about our right to live free is somehow radical and offensive to some. This is how white supremacy works in 2015. Even as we can speak out against a killing like Goforth’s, to impute liability for this officer’s death on a movement because it speaks out against police brutality and advocates for what should be basic human rights is the height of absurdity.
It is textbook racism that when a white suspect has committed a heinous act of inexplicable violence, every attempt is made to isolate the culprit as an individual acting alone. Whether it is questioning the mental state of the accused or even vilifying the victim (or blaming hip-hop, for that matter), all attempts are made to keep bad actors in as discrete a context as possible. However, when the conversation involves someone black being responsible, mental-health questions are off the table and it is suddenly our entire community’s problem. We can denounce this killing as senseless, tragic and wrong, and we can still advocate for ourselves and our safety at the same time. And we will.
3. At this point, we know that you get the difference and significance of #BlackLivesMatter, and we also know that in choosing to respond with “All lives matter” or “Cops’ lives matter,” you are intentionally choosing not to understand.
It is almost fascinating to watch how the debate on #BlackLivesMatter has become such a divisive line between those who are willing to acknowledge America’s problem with police violence against people of color, and those whose denial stubbornly prevents them from admitting this is an issue. There have been a number of excellent explanations penned on this topic in this space and others such that anyone remotely interested in understanding could by now have easily read and digested this concept. So when we see Hickman responding in an attempt to “drop the qualifiers,” not only is it obvious that this is an adversarial conversation for him, but it is also abundantly clear whose side he is on. It would be easier to believe he simply didn’t understand, but common sense suggests otherwise.
It may be tough to argue with the ignorant, but giving up will only yield results that are even more frustrating.
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a civil rights trial attorney, legal analyst and former Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor. He is also a professor of criminal justice at Berkeley College in New York. Follow him on Twitter.