Social media is certainly war of the hashtags in wake of last week’s deadly series of events. #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and #AllLivesMatter seem to be the most commonly used hashtags that reference the hostile state of the nation’s racial environment. These hashtags individually speak volumes and together exemplify the division that our country is experiencing. The New York Times spoke to this division Saturday morning in saying that the nation is “fracturing along racial and ideological lines into angry camps of liberals against conservatives, Black Lives Matter against Blue Lives Matter, protesters against the police.” #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter are the polar opposites in this battle across social media platforms, while Americans who do not wish to pick sides use #AllLivesMatter to land themselves on an apparent conflict-avoiding middle ground.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which sparked the Black Lives Matter activist movement, was the first to ever trend on social media. It was first used popularly after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch program that killed an innocent teenager, Trayvon Martin, in 2012. The same hashtag has been used to protest the innocent murders of black people ever since, and most recently Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
The other two hashtags were created to merely mimic the message behind #BlackLivesMatter. Blue Lives Matter is a movement that began after the murder of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were two police officers murdered in their squad car in 2014. People began using #BlueLivesMatter because of incorrect perceptions that users of #BlackLivesMatter were anti-police. The #AllLivesMatter hashtag’s purpose is to denounce any focus on any particular group of people.
In a literal, humanistic sense, all lives do matter. However, our country has never been able to prove it. We used African Americans as our slaves until slavery’s end in the 1800s, but even since then they have been treated as second class citizens in our country. Of course, some progress has been made since the Civil Rights Era (it is hard not to improve upon that mess), but harsh income disparities between black and white and the all-too-common murders of innocent African-Americans by police officers clearly demonstrate that black lives still do not matter to America.
Many Americans severely misunderstand the Black Lives Matter movement. People picture a group of hot-headed black people that are stuck in a victim mindset and pull the “race card” to blame society for their problems. In reality, the movement is made up of any person that believes we need to hold police departments accountable for race-motivated murders committed by their officers. It is made up of any person who denounces racial profiling by police officers. It is made up of any person that recognizes racial inequities in all facets of American life. It is made up of people who want to ensure that the voices of African Americans are marginalized no further, and it is made up by a person that wants to achieve such goals through non-violent forms of protest. In contrary to popular belief, Black Lives Matter activists do not champion the murders of the five police officers killed in Dallas on Thursday evening.
Any person who identifies with the Black Lives Matter movement will gladly tell you what it is all about. However, Americans tend to have a hard time listening, which is why we have the #AllLivesMatter hashtag. Many people on social media believe that they are acting inclusively when they use this phrase, but in reality, it demonstrates how Americans drastically misunderstand racism in the United States. As Bill Maher has said on his late-night television show, "'All Lives Matter' implies that all lives are equally at risk, and they're not.”
Saying “all lives matter” is like showing up to a breast cancer walk with a sign that says “all cancers matter.” All cancers do matter, but the purpose of the walk is specifically dealing with one of the most common types of cancer.
A comic strip by Kris Straub, shown below, perfectly describes the misunderstanding behind #AllLivesMatter. If a neighborhood house is on fire, a fire department is not going to show up and start putting water on all of the houses because all houses matter. The fireman will point toward the house that is on fire. Black Lives Matter is symbolized by the burning house. That one house is not more important than the other houses, or matters more than the other houses. The comic simply states that the burning house matters as well as the other houses and deserves more attention at the moment because it is on fire.
The black community is not on fire, but it is certainly under fire. It has been confirmed, by multiple sources and investigations, that black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police officers. According to 2015 statistics provided by Mapping Police Violence, 30 percent of those victims were unarmed, while only 19 percent of white people were unarmed.
These numbers exist solely due to a lack of accountability by police departments for corrupt and irresponsible officers, which contrasts from a popular belief that more black people are killed because they are more aggressive and commit more crimes than white people. The latter is an ignorant stereotype. Newark, N.J. has a 52 percent black population and not one person within that demographic has been killed by police since 2013. In St. Louis, M.O., there is only a 47 percent black population and even a lower overall murder rate than Newark, yet there have been 16 black people shot and killed by police in St. Louis since 2013. If the murders were really due to the behavior of African-Americans, wouldn’t Newark see more officer-involved shootings?
Police violence on African-Americans is not slowing down, and because of this, we need to recognize, understand, and support movements like Black Lives Matter. The injustice is there and happening at an unacceptable frequency. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have been added to a long list of people that should still be alive today: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, and many others.
We should hope one day we can say that all lives matter and truly mean and believe it. For now, we should avoid using #AllLivesMatter. It does nothing but shadow the voices of a community that needs help and attention from their country. All lives should matter, but consistent and constant violence has demonstrated that “all lives matter” comes with some exceptions. Until we can end the violence, we need to focus on the communities that need us to listen.
As far as #BlueLivesMatter goes, it is OK to proudly support law enforcement, but this hashtag was created and is used to counter the Black Lives Matter movement. Therefore, use of this hashtag should probably be avoided. Many police officers in this country are great police officers and it is important to respect the braveness required to survive in their occupation. However, it is clear that there are some bad apples in the bunch. Police departments, and even other police officers, need to recognize what a bad apple looks like and throw it out of the bunch, not toss it back in and hope it re-freshens one day. On an end note, it is important to know that #BlackLivesMatter is not an anti-cop hashtag. It recognizes the wrongs that such bad apples have committed against a severely oppressed community that is merely asking for justice and retribution.
“If you’re pro-Black Lives Matter, you’re assumed to be anti-police, and if you’re pro-police, then you surely hate black people. It seems that it’s either pro-cop and anti-black, or pro-black and anti-cop, when in reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we all should be.” - Trevor Noah, "The Daily Show"