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The Problem with “All Lives Matter”: Disrespect in the Wake of Death

My parents have sat me down for a lot of uncomfortable discussions over the years: talks about sex, rape, drugs, abuse. They have drilled me on the proper way to walk to my car at night, to keep my head and chest up and walk with a purpose, keys out, and check the windows to ensure that no one is waiting inside for me. To keep my pepper spray in my purse at all times. To order a new drink instead of picking up the one I had already put down in case anyone had spiked it. To always use a condom.

But there is one talk they have never given me: how to survive when confronted by a police officer. This discussion is the reality for black men and women across the country, as 122 black people have been killed by the police in 2016 alone, and names like Trayvon, Mike, Eric, Tamir, and now Alton become tragic examples. Seemingly insignificant actions–wearing a hoodie, selling CDs, playing with a toy gun (a TOY gun)–have become warning signs in the study of police brutality. Being pulled over for a traffic violation is now a symptom of death.

 
Photo courtesty of the author, with permission
 

As a white woman I will never be given this talk, nor will I experience these fears for myself. Because of my privilege (and remember, friends, having privilege does not make you a bad person) my parents have one fewer worry, and I will never be sat down on the living room couch and taught the survival tips of being pulled over or confronted by a police officer: keep your hands in plain sight, don’t make any sudden movements, respond politely. I have taken for granted all the times when I have talked with an officer and not wondered whether his or her body camera was turned on, all the times when I have walked past a parked cruiser at night and not worried about looking suspicious.

 
As a white woman I have never experienced the injustices, the grievances, and the horrors of police brutality, but I’ll be damned if I don’t lose my mind upon hearing “all lives matter.”
 
Now, don’t panic. All lives do, of course, matter, and it is not my place to determine whether one life has more value than another. I don’t hate cops, either; one of my closest loved ones is in the process of interviewing to join the police force, my old martial arts instructor was an officer, and I work closely with the law enforcement branch of the National Park Service at my current job.
 
However, the phrase “all lives matter” is in itself a blatant statement of mockery and disrespect, a testimony to ignorance surrounding the prevalence of the threat of police brutality that people of color face every day in this country. Black Lives Matter is a movement that was created in 2012 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, and the hashtag #blacklivesmatter was meant to draw awareness for the lives taken by racially-motivated crime. In saying “black lives matter” one does not negate the value of other lives; one simply means to bring awareness to those that are at greater risk.
 
 
Photo credit blacklivesmatter.com

Thus, the problem with “all lives matter” is in the wording. While there is nothing wrong with showing your support for police officers, doing so by using the slogan of a movement created to raise awareness for the murder of people of color is not okay. It is a sign not only of ignorance toward the lives lost as a result of police brutality but of indifference. It is the ultimate disrespect you can pay to the memories, the families, and the causes of the black men and women who have been killed.

 

I must implore: please do not use the phrase “all lives matter”; speak out in a different way. I urge you to watch the video of Alton Sterling’s murder because, though it is disturbing and graphic, it needs to be seen and understood. Do your research, start conversation, share articles worth reading, and remember the privilege you have been given.

 
Use that privilege to initiate change.
 
#blacklivesmatter

 

English major with a writing concentration, Civil War era studies/Middle East and Islamic studies minor. I'm all about goats and feminism.
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