“All Lives Matter” is harmful to the Black Lives Matter movement

Published by adviser, Author: Dylan Vamosi, Date: September 24, 2015
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Over the last year, it has become increasingly difficult to navigate social media without stumbling upon #AllLivesMatter.

We have also heard this gaffe from politicians on both sides of the spectrum. Martin O’Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate, mistakenly used the phrase “all lives matter” at a conference. Ben Carson, a Republican contender, also used the phrase. Donald Trump agrees with “all lives matter” and that Black Lives Matter is a misinformed and misplaced movement. The opinions of politicians often reflect public opinion. Indeed, many students at SRU agree that “all lives matter.”

This notion seems harmless. After all, are we not in this fight together? Is it not essential to regard all life as precious? By acknowledging one group’s livelihood over another, are we not diminishing the value of others?

Of course all lives matter. The Black Lives Matter movement does not refute this point. However, by espousing this babble, we ignore genuine inequity. #AllLivesMatter indicates a commonly misunderstood principle: although “races” are considered equal legally, they are not equal in reality.

All lives matter has been used selectively. Indeed, the movement’s name is imprecise. Most individuals do not equally value life, let alone black life. We routinely kill animals for food or pleasure, and the lives of bugs are widely considered insignificant. Accordingly, “life” becomes fickle in this context. At least #blacklivesmatter is clear about its subject matter.

Black lives, in particular, were systemically segregated by public policy into ghettos from 1934-1968. After blacks had been consolidated via urban renewal and meaningful resources had been stripped from these neighborhoods, policing was heightened and used in an increasingly punitive fashion. This was largely because of fearful sentiments regarding perceived crime rates and drug use. As a result, police officers were given more discretion with how they policed certain neighborhoods. “Stop and frisks,” for example, were institutionalized to profile and target black people. These would lead to disparities in sentencing that we still observe today. The Sentencing Project found that  5 times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses 10 times more often. Because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). Collectively, blacks are incarcerated at a rate nearly six times that of whites. These mass incarceration statistics are merely a sketch of a brutal reality. Sure, black individuals can legally leave these neighborhoods, but what upward mobility exists without access to health care, meaningful public schooling, safe streets, or libraries? Black individuals are regularly exploited by their police officers because they have been subjected to these depreciated areas against their wills. Violence results as a countermeasure amongst residents who seek any available local power. Ferguson and Baltimore do not occur spontaneously. They occur because of systemic racism black people have endured for the entirety of American history. We cannot consider #AllLivesMatter until we reconcile these travesties.

Slippery Rock University is a reflection of this disconnect between #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter. Though our campus supports a considerable amount of diversity, much of our student body is prototypically white and middle class. We do not understand the plight of inner city, institutionalized death traps. This is apparent by our tweets and yaks. We love #AllLivesMatter because it is simple and accessible; we do not have to delve further into the problem because it reaffirms an obvious principle. Though attractive, #AllLivesMatter is embarrassingly popular and ignorantly detrimental.

The best quote regarding this matter reads, “If I show up to a doctor’s office with a broken leg, it is not helpful for him to tell me that all bones matter and that we should value them equally. What are you going to do about my leg?” Indeed, we fortify the whole by strengthening individual parts. Even if you do not support #BlackLivesMatter, acknowledge that it is a well-researched dilemma. Approaching this topic involves nuance and detail. Do not fall into the “all lives matter” trap, for it is an enabler of passivity.

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