Black Lives Matter marked its third anniversary this week, but as comedian and activist Franchesca Ramsey points out in the latest episode of MTV’s Decoded, a lot of people still don’t get the meaning of the phrase and the social movement that bears its name.
"Scrolling through your Facebook feed, you’ll probably see articles and arguments about Black Lives Matter," Ramsey says. "A lot of people are mad or just confused about this movement."
That’s especially true in recent weeks. Over the course of just a few short days, July began with two high-profile killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Then, at the tail end of a protest against police brutality sparked by those deaths, a sniper targeted and killed five police officers in Dallas.
Tensions are high. Because of that, some consistent misunderstandings remain unaddressed or are exploited based on, what feels like, sheer willed ignorance.
To help out, Ramsey answered a few common questions that make their way into common conversations about Black Lives Matter today:
1) If black people care about black lives, why don’t they care about "black-on-black crime"?
The first thing to ask is why do we expect black people to pick between the two.
According to plenty of organizations and polling, black people care just as much about crime within their communities as they do about addressing a discriminatory criminal justice system that targets them.
According to the FBI's 2014 Uniform Crime Reports, close to 90 percent of African-American homicides were committed by other African Americans. Meanwhile 82 percent of white American homicide victims were killed by other white people.
The reason: crime, like housing, is racially segregated in the US, which means it's way more likely that a crime committed against someone is going to be by someone who lives in their neighborhood and probably looks a lot like them. The term "white-on-white crime," is essentially non-existent, even though it does happen.
"Black Lives Matter isn’t just about the loss of life, which is always terrible" Ramsey says. "It’s about the lack of consequences when black lives are taken at the hands of police."
Besides, Ramsey aptly notes, the myth of "black-on-black crime" deflects from the fact that police brutality and crime within black communities both derive from structural inequalities.
"The truth is black people aren’t more violent or more likely to commit crimes than anyone else," she says. "The reality is that because of a history of institutional racism, black communities have higher poverty rates, suffer from poorly funded schools, and are more likely to be targeted by police."
2) Does saying black lives matter mean you’re saying that blue lives don’t matter?
The simple answer: No.
"Of course the lives of cops matter," Ramsey says. "That’s why if you kill a police officer, you are rightly arrested and prosecuted."
One of the issues with thinking Black Lives Matter exists purely in opposition to police is that it conflates an occupation with the identity of marginalized group.
"Becoming a police officer is a choice," Ramsey says. "It’s not something you’re born into."
The other issue is that it suggests critiquing police and advocating for citizens is inherently "anti-cop" — no matter how many times even Beyoncé explains that point.
"The job of police officers is to protect and serve all communities," Ramsey says. "If thats not happening, we need to reassess to find a solution."
3) Are you saying only Black Lives Matter?
Again, the answer is: no.
"This movement isn’t saying black lives matter more than anyone else’s," Ramsey says. "It’s saying that black lives should matter, but the way that our justice system, our media, and our police have been operating, suggests that they do not."
In each of these situations, black people are devalued in ways that other groups don’t necessarily experience. Black Lives Matter is just trying to make sure people don’t overlook those differences, and how they acutely impact black people’s lives.
Ramsey notes: "It’s totally okay for a movement to focus on issues specific to one marginalized group. Gay bars aren’t unfair to straight people. A breast cancer walk isn’t unfair to other forms of cancer, and ‘Save the rainforest’ isn’t saying you hate all other trees."
4) Aren’t there way more white victims of police violence?
This answer is less straightforward.
Yes, technically more white people are victims of police violence. According to the Washington Post’s data on police killings, there have been 1,502 shot and killed by on-duty police since January 1, 2015. Nearly half of them (732 people) were white. Black people accounted for 381 of the victims.
But the problem is that black people also only account for 13 percent of the population compared to white people who make up 62 percent of the US population today.
This means that that small number actually makes a big difference, and that, when we stop taking the number at face value, it actually shows black people are being killed at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts.
"If an unarmed citizen is killed by the police, or an armed citizen under is killed under suspicious circumstances people should be upset no matter what the victim’s race," Ramsey says." This isn’t a competition."
But number versus rate makes it seem like there really is a competition instead of talking about just how serious America’s policing problem is.
"Sadly, police violence is a problem in many communities. But bringing up other victims to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement is pretty disingenuous."
Conversations about Black Lives Matter can be tough. But they're necessary. Hopefully breaking down a few of these myths about the movement helps.