Many of my fellow Whites see “Black Lives Matter” as meaning that police lives do not matter. That is a sad symptom of the sick state of ethnic and race relations in this country. Some who support Black Lives Matter are anti-police, just as some anti-establishment activists shouted “Off the Pigs” during Viet Nam War protests. However, those hostile and vicious thugs were and are a small minority trying to subvert the humanitarian goals of the larger movement. “Black Lives Matter” should be understood to mean, “Black Lives Matter, Too.”
I am incredibly proud of my daughters, who took in pound puppies (not the Tonka toys, but real pound puppies) and loved them until they are now better citizens than many of our high government officials and corporate CEOs. One dog, in particular, spent his first four months as a stray on the streets of Las Vegas. I cannot imagine this dog’s life as a stray in a desert city. How he found enough water to drink, let alone food, is a profound mystery.
Similarly, I cannot imagine the life of a coal miner who works grueling hours deep under ground and literally sacrifices his health to support his family. I cannot imagine the life of a farm worker who endures 14-hour days, bent over under a blistering sun, for less pay than a typical American spends on car payments. I cannot imagine the life of a gay or transgendered high school student afraid to enter a bathroom. I cannot imagine the life of an unemployed young Black or Latino in South Los Angeles. And I cannot imagine the life of a pregnant teenager in a state that makes it as difficult as possible to obtain an abortion. All of these lifes matter!
It is a huge and tragic problem that many, if not most, middle-class Whites think that they understand the lives of people who are different from them. They look at an unemployed person and assume that he or she is unemployed by choice. They see a pregnant welfare mother and assume that it is her choice to have another baby or that she does not know how to avoid becoming pregnant. They think the server who delivers their $3.49 Breakfast Special at the local hash house for sub-minimum wages works there by choice.
In truth, the coal minor, the farm worker, the unemployed Black or Latino and the server are all doing the best they can, given their opportunities and skills. Black Lives Matter is not just about Black men being shot by police. It is aimed at the gaping social inequality between the haves and the have-nots. The problem is not oppression of Blacks. It is oppression and denial of opportunity for all citizens who are disadvantaged by substandard education, physical disability, abysmal poverty, and discrimination based on race, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, and disability.
Our national leaders and the media want us to believe that the Black Lives Matter movement – to the extent that it is a movement – is a gaggle of gang members, terrorists and violent anarchists. That is their excuse to dismiss Black Lives Matter as anti-democratic and un-American because they do not want to effect change. They do not want good inner-city and rural schools nor are they willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure to make public transportation a reasonable alternative to private car ownership. They do not want affordable health care for all Americans. They hope to ignore the demands for equal opportunity and fairness and vilify and suppress Black Lives Matter the way they vilify and suppress the Occupy movement.
Black Lives Matter is not anti-police, it is pro-democracy and pro-equality. Instead of attacking Black Lives Matter, like the quasi-military forces of a tyrant cracking down on peaceful demonstrators, local police personnel should support its aims. Police officers are under the thumb of the establishment as much as anyone. They are being laid off and losing health and retirement benefits, just like employees in many fields. Furthermore, municipal police may have fairly good compensation and benefits, but they are vastly outnumbered by motivated and dedicated “security guards” who are forced to accept far lower compensation and minimal benefits.
A generation ago, security guards in state offices were civil servants, with reasonable wages, benefits and opportunities for advancement. Since then, the government has farmed out the responsibility for security in state and federal offices to the lowest-bidding private security companies, ensuring that the men and women securing the safety in government buildings will be paid as little as possible and deprived of even basic employee benefits. The same privatization (employee privation) is happening in every other government or corporate sphere that the plutocrats and autocrats in charge can rationalize. Even highly-trained and educated professionals are being downgraded to the status of casual labor, lacking benefits and the ability to negotiate the conditions of their employment.
Black Lives Matter is not just about Black men shot by police. It is about giving equal opportunity to children and adults who are Black or Latino or Muslim or LGBT, or who have disabilities. It is about ending voter suppression and living up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2016 John B. Payne, Attorney