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Black lives matter: Apples to Oranges

In the last week I have been…the only word that works is incredulous. I am not certain the exact circumstances surrounding every death of young black men in this country at the hands of police. But I do know that we’ve seen disturbing things. A young man shot in the back by a policeman . A man in New York is being argumentative, nothing more, and is killed by an illegal choke hold, wielded by a policeman with a past of abuse of power. A young man dies in police custody, “killed” in a paddy wagon.

I’m from New York. I was there for Abner Louima. I was there for Amadou Diallo. Being a New Yorker, the sheer weight of horror and confusion of navigating Manhattan makes you numb. Of course I was aware something was wrong. But there is so much wrong at every moment of the day, it seems like horror is simply part of the flow of time in a place like New York.

It’s only since I left New York and had years to reflect on my time there that I realized I had lived through what had to be, at the  very least, inept police actions or more seriously, brutal ones.

There are several gauntlets I have to run to complete this blog. I must, after all, have a side. My side must be the result of who I am, my skin color, my politics. They all lead in a definite direction, defining me. My opinion is not an opinion, but an agenda. I have defined “them”, the enemy, and they are wrong. Even if they are right, then they are wrong because they presume to claim something for themselves. In the end most people will read this and hope to find what they will gain and what will be taken away from them. It is war, isn’t it?
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You are uncertain. I must be black. Or I must be white. I must be a conservative, or perhaps a liberal. I must be something. I must hate something. I must deny someone of something. I must take something that isn’t mine. I must trumpet my own importance at the expense of someone else’s.

It’s almost clear, isn’t it? What I am. You can almost feel it, can’t you?

I am white. I am Jewish. I grew up in New York. What if I told you I didn’t really have a side, at least in this case. What I have is a desire for results. What I endorse is not a general “kumbaya” feeling, but an end to pointless pain and suffering. It destroys everyone’s life and peace of mind. And every reaction sets off the next in an endless sequence of crap.

I’ve heard all the arguments against the “Black Lives Matter” movement. “They’re acting like they’re the only ones who are persecuted”. “Don’t white lives matter?” “It’s just an attempt to manipulate the news.”

Yes, White lives matter. There are few who would argue with that statement. So what do white people lose if someone says “Black Lives Matter”? That seems to be it. The fact that “White Lives matter” might not be as “important” as “Black Lives Matter” in a specific case makes some white people feel that they are losing something. .

Recently, a politician at a press conference responded to the phrase “Black lives Matter” by saying “White lives matter”.  After a negative reaction from the African Americans in the audience, our politician responded, publicly, with an apology.  I’ve heard Sean Hannity say that he doesn’t understand why anyone should have to apologize for saying white lives matter and giving it as much weight as “Black Lives Matter”.
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In a perfect world he’d be right. But let’s look at what both statements really mean in this world. “All lives matter” is a saying that offers well wishes. But there is no particular result tied to it. People won’t fight for all lives because they can’t and they won’t. It’s an abstraction that leads to nothing.

To say that “White lives matter” in today’s America is important. But it’s like a greeting card. Are white lives at risk in the same specific way that inner city black lives are? I have been waiting for someone to say that white lives are endangered in a specific and pointed way, that the dangers can be quantified and identified. But no one has. That is because white lives are not specifically in a danger from an identifiable segment of the population. The result, again, is an abstraction.

To say “Black lives matter” is a survival tactic. There are specific identifiable dangers to young black men, especially in inner cities. It is an issue that has been identified and specific actions can be taken. Actions that may save lives.

When I hear “Black Lives Matter”, I don’t see activists with agendas. I see the mothers who have been filling my TV screen saying they are afraid their sons will be detained by police and, in the chaos that follows, be hurt or killed. Is it beyond the capabilities of the power structure in America to see a problem and help a segment of the population that is in danger?
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Are we as a nation more concerned about playing word games to prove someone else wrong than addressing an actual problem? Black mothers are afraid they will lose their children. Is that so hard to understand?

What we seem to have on our hands and what we have always had on our hands, is a war of spin, not of morality. In this case, the comparisons being made are apples to oranges. This is not an issue of philosophy or spin, but an issue of saving lives. This does not mean that policemen are not able to defend themselves; that is something that is important as “Black Lives Matter”. But the strength of our legal system is that it is applied consistently across the board.  Considering that we all count on that same legal system to protect us, consistency is perhaps its most important aspect of all.

Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon
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  1. Oh dear. While I don’t take exception to your observation that young black men in America are often targeted by police I am concerned that the message itself is unfair to many other groups. I could add links to under reported occurrences of similar injustices that have been done to people of native heritage in America. While the African American issues get significant press when is the last time anyone spoke up for our native brothers? Lakota mothers have the same fears for the safety of their sons as black mothers. Already robbed of their land (yes I bring up that old issue), they are confined to reservations in order to maintain their cultural identity. Even there the risk of police abuse is present. When one group of people of any color, nationality, religion, or any other criteria is considered more important than another, there is injustice. So if black lives matter, so then do Native Lives Matter. And Latino lives, Asian lives, Irish lives, female lives, children’s lives, and on and on. Do all lives matter? Of course. Police lives matter too. Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu mattered. A Latin and an Asian, police officers in Brooklyn, NY, shot to death by an African American assailant. Neither Asian nor Latinos tore up the Brooklyn neighborhood nor paraded with signs protesting their killings. I certainly am not defending the actions of law enforcement officers who abuse their positions by profiling and abusing or killing young African-American men. I only speak for those who are overlooked by a society that has forgotten equality means equality for ALL.
    http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/24/opinion/moya-smith-native-americans/ http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2-nypd-officers-killed-brooklyn-gallery-1.2052742

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