Yes, Blue Lives Matter. So Do Black Lives.
At first, I couldn’t figure out what made me uncomfortable about last week’s rally in Mayfair to support the Police Department.
The Facebook invitation seemed polite and earnest, a genuine gesture of gratitude following an incident in which a man allegedly reached for a handgun during a traffic stop (he was killed after a struggle with police). I’m from the area, and I’m incredibly grateful to the men and women who allow me to go about my life in this city feeling secure – as a woman who routinely walks her three-legged shih tzu while wearing four-inch heels, I rely very heavily on safe streets as opposed to, say, survival skills or physical prowess.
And yet, something about that rally didn’t feel quite right. Something looked confrontational about this peaceful protest.
And then I saw it, my least favorite Facebook meme, out there in the wild on posterboard: a “Blue Lives Matter” sign.
Well, obviously they do. We’ve all agreed on this. There will always be severely mentally ill people like Ismaaiyl Brinsley and Eric Frein who want to kill police officers. There will always be people scrawling anti-cop graffiti and posting disgusting images to Instagram because there will always be people, and people are awful.
But we as a society have repeatedly reinforced that blue lives matter, very much so and for very good reason. No one – not the judge, not the media, not the community – ever shrugs when a cop dies. We were universally horrified – “I Can’t Breathe” protesters included, Eric Garner’s family included – when two police officers were murdered in Brooklyn over the weekend.
Not that this is what the Blue Lives Matter campaign is about.
Blue Lives Matter – the rallies, the signs, the Facebook profile photos – is not about supporting the police during a difficult time. There are certainly good people and noble movements out there doing just that, but this isn’t one of them. Blue Lives Matter is a racially charged reaction to Black Lives Matter (if you seriously try to tell me that Mayfair rally wasn’t racially charged, I will assume that you have never been to Mayfair). It is an inflammatory slogan that occupies that strange, uncomfortable space between threatened and threatening.
Which is odd, because nowhere in the Black Lives Matter protests have I heard that other lives – blue or otherwise – don’t matter. Where did we get the idea that Black Lives Matter needed a rebuttal?
Of course you can hold a sign that says “Black Lives Matter” or “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” or “I Can’t Breathe” and still be devastated when two NYPD officers are murdered. Of course you can protest police brutality while still respecting the majority of officers who act lawfully and honorably. Of course you can mourn the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown while mourning those of Rafael Ramos and Jian Liu.
Until recently, this idea that your interest in an issue prohibits your interest in another was something of an Internet phenomenon. In real life, you can watch “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” while still caring about world hunger. You can be upset about the death of a celebrity and also be upset about the death of American troops. And yet, scroll through the comments of any fluffy bit of gossip or pop culture and you’ll always find That Guy: “How is this news? Don’t you know that this other awful thing is happening that demands our undivided attention?”
Well, welcome to the real world, Mutually Exclusive Caring. It sucks almost as much as Facebook.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a suspension of protests while the city mourns the senseless deaths of two officers. This is an especially sensitive and dangerous time for police officers and their families, and yes, special measures should be taken to ensure their safety.
But if and when the protests resume, I hope we can remember that “Black Lives Matter” is not a threat. It is a statement – a necessary one – and it does not require a childish, confrontational counterpoint. Need a new sign for your police rally? “Thank You” seems pretty appropriate.