Black Lives Matter: A Downward Spiral

In early August, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders arrived in Seattle to speak at a rally celebrating the 80th birthday of Social Security. Sanders was barely able to begin before two women climbed on stage, threatening to “shut the event down.” One of the protestors—both of whom are associated with the Black Lives Matter movement—repeatedly screamed “let her [the other protester] on the mic,” as the senator himself slipped quietly into the background. The rally’s organizer then addressed the crowd saying he would try to be reasonable and let the protesters speak after Senator Sanders. This enraged the protesters, who started shaking the podium, shoving the organizer, and screaming—unaware of the irony—“we are being reasonable!” The organizer was unwilling to endure any more abuse and ceded control of the microphone. The two protesters proceeded to call the crowd “white supremacist liberal[s]” and the city of Seattle racist. If you haven’t seen the video, it is on YouTube. Those of you who have been around toddlers throwing a tantrum will find the behavior of the protestors eerily familiar.

When working as a part of a grassroots movement like Black Lives Matter, there are certain things you cannot do if you want to be successful. The first of these things is basing your movement on—or defending it with—misleading or fabricated information. The second is alienating people, particularly those who are most likely to support you. The first is actually a subset of the second, but is important enough with respect to Black Lives Matter that it deserves to be touched on separately.  

The poster child for Black Lives Matter’s present incarnation was Michael Brown. However, when all of the facts pertaining to the case came to light, it became obvious that the shooting of Michael Brown was in self-defense. The movement’s rallying cry—“Hands up, don’t shoot!”—turned out to be a completely inaccurate representation of what actually happened in Ferguson last summer.

To the leaders of the movement, however, these facts were irrelevant. As more and more alleged murders of black civilians by white police officers became headlines, it seemed like just a matter of time before mitigating circumstances bubbled to the surface as well—sometimes supporting claims of police brutality but calling into question racism as a motivating factor, such as the case of Freddie Gray, where 3 of the 6 officers indicted in the case were black. This cast doubt onto the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those at the forefront of the movement also seem reluctant to mention that in the cases where the evidence actually supported police brutality—such as the cases of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray—the police were indicted on several serious charges, ranging from assault to manslaughter to murder. Instead, Black Lives Matter chooses to focus on the cases where the evidence is insufficient for indictment, touting them as evidence of the systematic murder of black people by white police officers.

Many people who were initially on the fence about Black Lives Matter were seriously turned against the movement after repeatedly seeing protestors claim one thing while the evidence showed the opposite. Though many in the movement seem to feel that the evidence doesn’t matter, the reality is that to most people who are undecided on the issue, it is of paramount importance. Black Lives Matter is turning its potential allies into its opposition by embellishing and sometimes blatantly fabricating its claims.

Bernie Sanders’ track record with regard to civil rights puts that of all the other candidates in the 2016 election—and, frankly, most of the protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter—to shame. He was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. He was arrested for his participation in protests against segregated campus housing as a student at the University of Chicago, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Say whatever you want about Bernie Sanders, but it is difficult to argue that he is anything but a sincere and devoted champion of civil rights for African-Americans.

Had the two protesters chosen to approach the event’s organizers (or Senator Sanders himself) in a respectful manner, it is clear from the video that the organizers would have been willing to let them speak. The crowd would almost certainly have been receptive to their message. After all, the circle of people who attend a speech by Bernie Sanders and the circle of people who would support the Black Lives Matter overlap quite a bit. Instead, by choosing to rudely interrupt Senator Sanders, verbally (as well as physically) assault the organizer of the event, and accuse the crowd of being racist, the two “activists” managed only to anger those who could have been their allies, as evidenced by the angry response of the crowd.

Moreover, their actions served to even further alienate those who were on the fence about their movement. When people see two young activists harassing and interrupting a—let’s be honest—fairly feeble looking old man, particularly when that old man has been fighting for the rights of African-Americans since before those protesters were born, it does nothing to win them over to the Black Lives Matter movement. It was, in essence, the worst public relations stunt the group could have planned.

Despite the fact that the actions of protesters such as those who interrupted Senator Sanders seem to suggest that making friends and drawing people into their movement is of little concern, this is a poor strategy for a grassroots movement to use. If Black Lives Matter is to be successful, it needs to evolve from a niche group into a serious, mainstream movement, and it must do so soon. Movements that are viewed as fringe and do nothing to incorporate themselves into the mainstream tend to fizzle out (e.g. Occupy Wall Street) with few successes to hang their hat on.

Articles like this one may be dismissed as “tone-policing” (especially when coming from an openly white person like myself) by those within the Black Lives Matter movement. However, it is at Black Lives Matter’s own peril that they ignore what their detractors say. Protesters like the ones who interrupted Senator Sanders certainly have a right to free speech, but they seem to be under the mistaken impression that they also have a right to be listened to. You cannot force people to hear what you have to say; if what you have to say is worth hearing, people will choose to listen. If they do not, perhaps you need to be honest with yourself about why that is. Though it may feel cathartic to shut people down and meet resistance and even questioning with anger—a strategy that suggests you are unable to adequately address criticism of your movement—it will make enemies of those on the fence and cause those who might have been your allies to think twice, ultimately driving your movement into the ground.

Image Source: Seattle Met

11 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter: A Downward Spiral”

  1. Just some thoughts I had while reading this:

    1. You state that its “obvious” that the shooting of Michael Brown was self-defense, without ever questioning the validity of that Missouri self-defense law. Should the use of deadly force really be an appropriate and acceptable response for simply the reasonable belief that there might be a threat of harm? Eve if you do believe that, I feel that police officers should be held to a higher standard of establishing credible threats of harm. I mean, isn’t that what they’re trained for? Especially with the absolute deference that you seem to show for police officer testimony in cases where they are the sole remaining witness.

    2. You mostly point to individual details of cases, but it seems fairly clear to me that the intersection of increased police militarization/brutality and racism (implicit and explicit) within the criminal justice system manifests in the fact that Black Americans are twice as likely to be killed by police than their proportional population would suggest.

    3. Pointing to indictments in the Walter Scott and Freddie Gray cases is slightly absurd. Grand jury indictments are incredibly easy to procure (except for police officers apparently), and simply lead to a trial without any imposition of actual consequences. Also, to suggest that an indictment is enough of a sign that Black lives matter equally in this country ignores the fact that those killings should never happen in the first place if that were the case.

    4. I am a strong supporter of both Bernie Sanders and BLM. And I feel like you fundamentally misunderstand the point of protests at Sanders’ events. The protesters understand Sanders’ history of activism, and that’s precisely why they do target him. He’s the candidate who’s most likely to respond positively! And he has done so in the days and weeks after the protest through unveiling his racial justice platform and hiring a press secretary, Symone Sanders, with a history of racial activism. Their actions have much more impact there than they would at a Bush or Rubio or even Clinton rally, and as you mentioned, it is where they are going to start gaining a lot of support. I personally know many democrats who didn’t know much about BLM, and who maybe even were turned off initially by the protests, but who changed their views as they learned more about the movement’s history and goals.

    5. Also, even if you don’t agree with anything I said in the previous paragraph, it should be noted that the events you’re discussing stem from a specific BLM chapter, and not the organization as a whole. Just like I don’t think its fair to criticize all Republicans because of Trump and Cruz, I don’t see how you can disregard the whole BLM movement because you disagree with the tactics of a few members.

    6. Bernie Sanders is not feeble looking.

    7. It feels fairly evident to me as a reader that you didn’t start writing this article with any sympathy or even respect for BLM, which I think hindered my ability to believe that you truly care about helping BLM improve their strategy. You casually dismiss the protesters’ claims of Seattle as an example of Northern liberal racism without considering the city’s long history of racism ranging from housing discrimination to PICS v Seattle Schools and everything in between. And your comparison of the protesters to toddlers throwing a tantrum also seemed like simply another attempt to dismiss BLM without substantially engaging with their ideas and strategy.

    8. Even though I disagree with you, I appreciate that you put the effort to write this article because it definitely helped me understand the exact thought processes of those who took issue with the protests and how I should address them from my perspective.

  2. I had many of those same thoughts while reading this. I find it a pity that this article has appeared, because there are some true elements to Schmitt’s argument, but he forfeits all possibility of winning people over to his perspective when he becomes dismissive of BLM’s justified and urgent concerns about systemic racial inequality in the U.S. (although he probably wouldn’t see it that way) and when he chooses to publish in the CI.

    The latter choice is particularly interesting, because this article praises Sanders, a strong progressive, yet it is published in the 5C’s conservative magazine. Schmitt talks in the article about alienating people to your cause—well, if your audience is strong progressives, establishing your argument as the conservative position (as publishing in the CI does) is going to alienate people. That’s a shame. (Unless, of course, dividing and conquering Sanders was the intent all along.)

    Sidd, regarding your last point, I completely agree but I’d caution you not to overgeneralize. There are some people who take issue with the protests despite understanding their purpose and sympathizing with BLM in a way that Schmitt obviously does not. I hope that, at this point, all strong progressives, regardless of our opinions on the Seattle interruption, will be able to come together in support of Sanders. He needs every bit of help we can offer in order to win the primary, and his racial justice platform, no matter how strong it is, won’t matter very much unless he has a chance to attempt to enact it as president.

  3. Taylor, this article comes from the perspective of a straight white male who has never experienced systemtic oppression of their identity. This article is completely pedantic and comparing black women to children is ignorant and offensive. This is a classic #berniesoblack

  4. Fantastic article! So glad to see someone finally articulate what most of us are thinking. It makes no sense for these black lives matter protesters to attack Bernie Sanders when he’s clearly the most accepting, unifying candidate (given his background with equal rights activism). People getting mad at you over this think you can’t have an opinion because you’re a white male. Ignore them and their ignorance; your opinion is just as valid as any other person’s. Keep up the great work!

    1. I think you stopped paying attention to what actually was going on. They weren’t attacking him, they were calling out his lack of public acknowledgment of these issues. They were requesting a statement, which he then gave. And now there is no problem that BLM has with him. He gave them what they wanted.
      Either way, terrible article

      1. You have to be kidding me buddy. They were rude, irrational,and inconsiderate. Sanders has spent a great deal of his life acknowledging these issues. That’s beside the point anyway. They misrepresnt the issue. They lie, ignore evidence, and create controversy where there is none. Their entire “movement”, which began after Michael Brown, is based on a lie. Michael Brown was justifiably shot be a law enforcement officer in fear of his life. All the evidence, forensic and otherwise, pointed to this. Along with the crime that Michael Brown had just committed. Did BLM care about any of this at all? No, they didn’t. They ignored it entirely. BLM is not a rational movement. Their actions when the Senator was attempting to speak shows that they they aren’t ready or capable of rational discourse. The qualifier that they place on whose lives matter also shows that they are obsessed with skin color. You can scoff at that all you want but if you don’t understand that there are black people who are obsessed with playing the victim at the hands of the white man – you need to get out more often. This is the sentiment in my neighborhood about BLM. Professional victims. When a white person says that they should take the qualifier off – they play the racist card. One last thing, “no acknowledgment of these issues”? You have to be kidding. I would love to hear what you think “these issues” are. If it is police in the inner city shooting a black person to stop the threat that the black person poses to the officers life- maybe you should address the criminal activity in the inner city- oh wait – am I a racist? Even though I am black? Come to the inner city. Take the “shoot or no shoot challenge” that many departments are offering. Then maybe you will have some semblance of what it is like to face being killed every single day. The typical response is, “shoot to wound”. Officers don’t shoot to wound or shoot to kill. They shoot to stop the threat. if you think they should shoot to wound then you watch too many movies – it doesn’t work. People don’t just fall down. Anyway, to sum it all up – get your head out of your ***. If you are a black person take personal responsibility for yourself and stop blaming everything on the white man. If you are a white person – save your guilt. It’s over, and we don’t need your irrational babying. Thank you much.

  5. All lives matter – there’s nothing more to say. Until they take the qualifier off of their slogan I hope they remain on the fringe. I have been called a racist numerous times for saying no it should be “black lives matter”, it should be “all lives matter”.

  6. Love the title. Thank you for stating FACTS that libtards have such a hilariously sad time acknowledging. BLM is now an ineffectual group of toddlers throwing a tantrum punctuated by misdirected rage, flailing, flapping, blustering, moaning and wailing. This toddler will tire out, take a nap and wake up more reasonable. Goodnight, brat.

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