I initially learned about Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2016. Honestly, I didn’t understand BLM’s purpose, and for me, the message fell on deaf ears. I didn’t understand why they’d want to make the claim that “only” Black Lives Matter. At first, I largely disregarded the movement and assumed it unimportant, but now, I know I ought to have been more self-aware.
At the time I was living in southeastern Idaho(having moved there for college from my home in Utah), which (for those of you unfamiliar with this region) probably has one of the most homogeneous white populations (93% white) in the country. So BLM didn’t affect me very much. I was a sophomore in college, more concerned with grades and girls and focusing on figuring out life rather than social movements. Fast forward to the summer of 2020, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, America’s civil rights movement shifted to the front of public discussion following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.
This time around it hit me a bit differently. I was older; I’d had more experiences, and most importantly, I had time to actually follow and care about the news. I watched the video of George Floyd in horror and was flabbergasted at the sheer disregard for human life that the officers in the video displayed. I wasn’t a police officer, and I couldn’t know what it was like to be in that situation. But from my perspective, it was sickening.
During this time, Michael (name changed at his request), a black man I’d met in Phoenix, began posting nearly daily messages on Facebook about what it was like to be a black man in this country. This man was an amazing example of decency, civility, and honor. I’d witnessed him, firsthand, be a loving husband and father to his family. He worked as a lawyer and was well known within his community; he volunteered many hours at his church to serve those around him and, overall, really seemed to listen to others. I came to look forward to reading his posts on the semi-weekly basis that they were posted because they were eye opening.
Michael wrote about the time he was stopped within his own neighborhood for not looking like he belonged. He’s a tall man and lives in a nice area with his family, and on one of Michael’s morning runs, an officer had received a call about a suspicious figure in the area. Michael said he had was stopped because it was dark and he was black. In another post, he wrote about how when he was in college, he was denied entrance to his dorm building because the other residents assumed he, a black man, couldn’t possibly live in this building. The posts described multiple personal experiences, familial experiences, and experiences from other individuals that were similar to his own experiences.
Reading these posts and following the events on the news weren’t the only reasons that caused me to shift my views and become a supporter of BLM, but they definitely cemented my beliefs. BLM isn’t about saying only black lives matter, as much as that fallacy is used by those who would disregard it. It’s about saying this is a population who oftentimes do not live in and have the same rules that the other races in America have.
A great example to me of why BLM is happening is that of a shepherd and their flock. When a shepherd goes after a stray sheep and leaves the rest behind, it is not because the lost one is more important than the rest of the herd. It is because the one is in trouble and needs help in order to be safe with the rest of the herd. When the shepherd finds the one, like in dear Shrek’s case (the sheep, not the ogre), the shepherd was happy to reunite the animal to the rest of it’s family. As Americans, we’re all one family, in a sense, and we should be happy when everyone, black, white, yellow, or green are able to experience the same norms as one another. I, a white male, am able to go running at night without fear of persecution, I want my friend in Arizona to be able to do the same.
The flipside of this is the other BLM, Blue Lives Matter. I was raised to respect police officers, and one of the adults I looked up to was my elementary school’s local DARE officer. Officer Bowker was assigned to my elementary school, and a memory I have of third grade was when he climbed one of the trees on the school grounds to get our soccer ball down for us after the goalie performed a very bad dropkick. Officer Bowker got the ball, proceeded to come play a couple minutes with us (in his uniform with all the equipment on his belt), and then went into the school for work. I grew up with his two sons and daughter, and I remember being in their home when I was older and playing board and video games there. It was a good home, which I certainly believe came, in part, thanks to Officer Bowker’s values.
However, it’s now my belief that this officer is an exception to the norm rather than the rule. While in grad school, I have had the great opportunity to be a part of the Computational Justice Lab associated with my school, Claremont Graduate University. The lab’s purpose is to provide analytical and casual insights into policy evaluation, and a few projects I happen to be on are on law enforcement behavior. I am currently assisting in projects that are using data from various departments to analyze and measure police officer behaviors.
Overall, the findings have deeply disturbed me and made me look at those who wear the badge in a new light. I know this is an unpopular view.
However, I just don’t view the police in an Andy Griffeths type light anymore. Now, because of what’s happened over the past summer in combination with the academic research I’ve seen have caused me to see our police officers more along the lines of the Peacekeepers of Panem. I’m exaggerating to be sure, but if it was a spectrum, after watching the videos of this last summer and the data I’ve seen, it seems most officers slide towards the peacekeeper side much more than the kindly officer of Mayberry. I certainly don’t trust police officers as implicitly as I did as a child.
For example, recently I helped build a database using some of the data that the PlainView Project (PVP) had compiled. The data was the social media posts of both active (as of 2019) and former police officers, along with descriptive statistics like the officer’s salary, rank, and badge number. For our project, we linked this information via the badge number with their traffic stops data. The data the PVP had collected is from eight different cities that range in size from Dallas, Texas (over a million population), to Twin Falls, Idaho (less than 50,000). While working with this data, we categorized the data if it referenced policing, violence, race, religion, and sexism along with some other descriptive statistics. While some of the officers' social media habits were very normal, posting about their families or their favorite NFL team, far more of them were posts that made me uncomfortable. Like the post made by this Sergeant, crying “Death to Islam” or this post by a Lieutenant that showed blatant sexism.
You may say, I’m cherry picking, but I just picked the top two when I loaded the data fresh. I went over 2,000 various posts, and these posts are nothing out of the norm of what I’d seen countless times. If the data from this is even close to representative, which I’ll admit I don’t know if it is, then there is certainly a problem in how our country’s police are. So do police lives matter? Absolutely. But if you don’t think there are problems, maybe ask yourself; is it that the police don’t have problems or that the problems don’t affect you?
The riots this past summer are difficult events to talk about. Was the violence and destruction of property warranted? I would argue no, but I’m not willing to say I know that for certain. John Oliver, a comedian, did a poignant piece on the summer protests. I would encourage you to watch the whole thing, but the piece ends with an interview of a woman explaining why they are protesting.
It is chilling.
I haven’t lived the experiences of those with black skin; I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid of the police. I can’t say what I’d do in their situation, but from listening to what’s being said, it seems our society could do much better.
So there's a problem. It’s easy to point out problems. The hard part about life is finding working solutions, and I won’t pretend that I have the answers to racism, police department corruption, or equality. However, I will offer a couple areas that I believe would improve the situation. First, education in America in recent decades has devalued and defunded education to a startling degree. This is on all levels, from elementary, middle school, high school, and even college. You may disagree with these statements because more people are attending university now than at any previous time in history. More of our population hold high school diplomas than at any previous time in our nation’s history. This is true. But I would argue the value and quality of these diplomas and education is falling. Education is a great way to build civility as well as building compassion and fostering understanding. I’m not going to go into education reform here (future article will), but I believe we should increase funding for education. Use the additional funds to raise the salaries of teachers to incentivize more people to become teachers, decrease class size, and hopefully lead to better interaction with students across the board. Maybe some of the $686 billion the military uses or the $47 billion the foreign aid spends or the $115 billion police departments used this last year could instead be used in our schools. As we learn, our perspective of the world will increase and hopefully this will increase our willingness to listen to those who come with a different perspective.
Another solution, listen. As Skyler Wixom previously wrote, learning to listen and recognize that other people's perspectives have value are skills we all need. I’ve been disheartened by many of my friends and family who’ve come to completely disregard everything BLM stands for because of X or because of Y. I do not agree with the violence and destruction that happened in the summer of 2020; however, I am not willing to throw out the entire conversation because of it. The people who committed those acts have had experiences and situations that have led to their views and to their actions. I have not had those same experiences, but it would be appalling of me to say that those people’s experiences don’t have the same weight and value as my own. If you believe BLM is a terrorist organization, have you ever truly tried to listen to and understand someone who believes in the movement?
We need more frank conversations where the purpose is to listen and learn rather than shout and demonize the opposition. We respect and often hold a revere for the Founding Fathers, and didn’t they incite violence, destroy property, and wage war because they felt their personal rights weren’t being respected?
I feel like both members of both sides of this issue had stopped being willing to listen, but that is exactly what cannot happen. I pray that we learn to be more honest and open in trying to understand one another. That we listen to learn rather than listen to disregard.
I wonder if we all had met a Michael, if we’d be more understanding of the various social causes going on in our country. My interactions and experiences with Michael and others helped me find a new perspective. They’ve made me more aware and willing to ask questions of everything in order to gain a greater understanding.
BLM is fighting for justice, not in the traditional physical sort of way, but a cultural and social one. I believe Sevro au Barco said it best: “Justice isn’t about fixing the past, it’s about fixing the future. We’re not fighting for the dead. We’re fighting for the living. And for those who aren’t born yet.” Black Lives Matter is fighting for justice, it’s about equality; it’s about having the chance to live in the same America that a white boy from northern Utah was raised in. This country has done many things right, but when it comes to how it’s treated those with black skin, it has done a lot wrong.
About the Author: Logan Longhurst is currently figuring out what he’s doing in life, he’s currently in a PhD program at Claremont Graduate University in southern California. He’s passionate about politics and economics and can talk for hours about any of those topics with someone. He’s also a huge fan of ultimate frisbee, reading fantasy, and exploring the outdoors. Green is his favorite color. His favorite quote is "The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”