Demonstrations last week in Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer were not unexpected. Our memories are short, but not that short. We haven’t forgotten what happened in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Minneapolis. Or New York. Or Baton Rouge.
The details of this shooting are a little different, if I understand correctly.
The police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is black. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a racist. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just different.
Scott may have been armed, too. Initial reports were that he was. That doesn’t mean he was illegally armed. It doesn’t mean he was threatening. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t. It’s just different.
Different from Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Philando Castile and maybe a little more like Alton Sterling.
While the demonstrations aren’t surprising, I’m starting to view them differently. In a get out your tin-foil hats sort of way.
Before we get any farther, I think we should look at #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMater, because this is important, and it’s not evident to everyone.
I’ve seen the difference best described in this analogous situation. It’s not mine. It made the rounds on Facebook and I have no idea where I saw it. If you know, please comment so I can give the originator some credit.
The short version is this: Missing from the hashtag is an implied “too”. Now, the long version.
Imagine a family with eight children. You probably know one. Dinner time’s a little chaotic. Mom, Dad and eight kids. Imagine you’re the six-year-old. Mom’s dishing out food, but skips over you, giving everyone else an equal amount.
You start to complain, obviously. Dad gets angry.
“But, Dad, I deserve my fair share,” you say.
“That’s selfish,” he replies. “Everyone deserves their fair share.”
You didn’t mean other people shouldn’t have their fair share, that only you should have your fair share. From where you’re sitting, watching everyone eat, everyone already has their fair share, and you want yours, too.
You didn’t say, “I deserve my fair share, too,” you just assumed that Dad recognized everyone already had theirs, since they’re eating and you’re not.
That’s the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The #BLM movement looks around and sees that everyone else’s life appears to matter, every life except black lives. The movement doesn’t believe that only black lives matter. It believes that it’s apparent other lives matter, and that black lives matter, too.
Now, let’s move on. At its heart, #BLM is looking for institutional change — or at least it appears that’s the goal. There doesn’t seem to be any unity of vision around that goal, but it’s still a young movement.
Example: Early in the campaign, demonstrators broke up a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. For all the lip service everyone else paid the black community, Sanders is the only one seen in photographs marching with Martin Luther King Jr. He’s the only person who was running for president this time out who has actually demonstrated for black lives, and demonstrators sent him home, too.
If you want to make waves in an oligarchic republic, you basically have two moves: Make friends in high places or burn everything down and start over. This was a guy who was demonstrably on their side and in a position to help, and demonstrators took to a bully pulpit.
That feels a lot like burning a bridge. He could have spent months backing them on the election trail; he could still do something for the movement as a Senator with an increased profile.
Now go get your tin-foil hats, because there was some weird stuff going on Wednesday night in Charlotte.
Things got a little out of hand during the evening. I watched, on CNN, as demonstrators injured a cameraman and broke windows on businesses. Someone said protesters were beating up patrons at a hotel who came to the lobby to look on, since they couldn’t leave.
When I got back from my break, about 1:30 a.m. (Thursday morning, technically), there were five types of people left on the streets of Charlotte: (1) Police; (2) Journalists; (3) Dude-bros in shorts and hoodies taking cell phone photos and videos of the destruction; (4) Drunk people smiling and waving at the cameras as last call approached and (5) Peaceful demonstrators (seriously peaceful and organized; if you didn’t know any better they would have looked like a Zumba class on the sidewalk).
I’m guessing police didn’t manage to round up and arrest the entirety of the aggressive bunch, and I’m guessing they didn’t all look at their watches and say, “It’s almost midnight; I’d better get home.”
I’m not saying the government bussed in a bunch of agitators to make everybody look bad and then bussed them back out when viewership declined on the east coast, but that’s starting to sound more and more plausible every time something happens.
And what about police behavior? With people breaking windows and throwing bricks and tossing tear gas canisters at police, the only person who was shot Wednesday night appears to have been shot by a civilian, not an officer, which means that there were guns in the crowd amidst the chaos.
As a CNN commentator noted, police can handle riots without shooting anybody but they can’t pull a Taser instead of a gun when confronting someone on the street? I don’t know. It’s high-stress all around and I’ve never been in the situation from either side, but it seems strange that when you turn on the cameras and show us basically a militarized zone for the night, nobody gets hurt, but put an officer in an “everyday” situation (for a police officer, I guess), and it keeps ending badly, it feels like something more conspiratorial is going on.
The US Military requires more documentation of escalation that leads to foreign combatants’ deaths (including proof that the deceased was properly identified as a combatant before engagement) than many of our cities require of police. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Now here’s the hard part.
#BLM clearly wants institutional change. I have a general understanding of what the result of that looks like, but I have no understanding of the steps between demonstrating visibly on the streets instituting change where it can make a difference.
I do know that it has to be through some combination of emotion and numbers, and there doesn’t appear to much overlap. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are still white. But yes, 26 percent of people killed by police are black men, while black men only make up 6 percent of the general population. But black men are also disproportionately in prisons — and are disproportionately poor, under-educated and under-employed. These things are related.
If you want to hear the problem we have mixing the two, listen to a very drunk Hannibal Burress (a black comedian who was drinking on a comedy podcast and then got roped into a political discussion by dint of still being in the room) talk about #BLM with a sober Sam Harris (a white neuroscientist and moral philosopher) in episode 52 of #WTPLive [iTunes – Google Play]. It’s sloppy and a little embarrassing at times, but it makes the point that this requires both logical thinking and empathy, and this movement may be too young to allow the two to meet.