In a recent blog, Professor Jack Donnelly of the University of Denver sets out the reasons why both ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘Blue lives matter’ as legitimate rights claims in the United States. His post is a useful exposition of both sides, and why both claims have legitimacy in this present time.
Yet the post reflects a cautiousness which is noticeable in American politics at the moment. In writing about both movements, Donnelly’s arguments are spattered with caveats (“A few (perhaps even many)”) which may be reassuring to those feeling threatened by either side, but support neither meaningfully.
Donnelly rightly sets out why ‘Black lives matter’ at this moment in American history (I would go as far as to say world, but his post is US focused only), pointing to
“the sorry string of well-publicized killings of black men, women, and children at the hands of uniformed public officials; the fact that the names that we do know are only the tip of the iceberg; the obscene murder rates in many urban black communities; and the poverty, unemployment, and infant mortality rates of black Americans.”
He also points out the way in which police officers in the United States are particularly vulnerable to fatal attacks (gun control, anyone?).
But what Donnelly misses in this post, and I think is a real gap, is the fact that ‘Blue lives matter’ is most often asserted in the face of ‘Black lives matter’ claims, as if police were only or mainly targeted by Black assailants, and in face of the evidence that police are overprotected by their employers and the state when they brutally assault and murder Black citizens. Black Lives Matter was established primarily to draw attention to the failure of the nation to protect Black lives from the abuse of institutional power. Colin Kaepernick’s protest in kneeling at the national anthem is an example of how Black Lives Matter focuses on police brutality. Blue Lives Matter emerged in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and is routinely asserted in direct response to Black Lives Matter protests.
So while Donnelly argues that
““Blue Live Matter” and “Black Lives Matter,” however, are not competing claims, as some partisan demagogues have suggested.”
I respectfully, on the evidence, disagree.
You can read his full blog here http://blog.oup.com/2016/09/saying-black-lives-matter/