On July 7th 2016 protesters in Dallas, Texas peacefully rallied against the killings of black people at the hand of the police. It was in this week that Alton Sterling had been shot dead by the police in Baton Rouge. Philando Castile’s death immediately following just days after upon being shot by the police in the front seat of his car, his girlfriend watching in horror. The protest was in continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement with both black men adding to the long list of black people killed by the police this year.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been a movement that continuously demanded the end of black death and police accountability for the harm they have caused- without much response from police who stand in opposition. It was this protest that was abruptly ended when a group of cops were ambushed and shot- the aftermath leaving five cops dead. A few day later, in Louisiana another 3 police officers were ambushed and attacked leaving 3 more cops dead and police unions, city officials and the nation on high alert. It was in the midst of grieving not only for the police officers killed but for the black lives that were lost, that “Blue Lives Matter” legislation began to spread.
Blue Lives Matter legislation or what has been dubbed the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ is legislation that would protect police officers under hate crime statute.
Under the bills police officers would be listed as a protected class of individuals along with people marginalized in regards to race, gender, religion and sexuality based on their identity.
The bills have since been introduced on both state and federal level. In states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky and New Mexico Blue lives Matter ordinances are being proposed and over going their first hurdles to become a bill. In places like Louisiana they have already passed and many more are pushing for passage in the names of officers killed.
The terminology of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ spawned in response to Black Lives Matter. Both the terminology and the bill function to center police safety and highlight the dangerous position police officers put themselves in everyday on the job. The creation of the bill comes from an idea that police officers are under attack, that by saying black lives matter it means officers’ lives don’t and that police officers are an identity under attack so much so that an attack of one is inherently a hate crime. This bill would also mean that negative interactions with the police with, either protester or civilian, have the potential to be trialed as a hate crime, crimes that are most often a felony offense.
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The problem with both this terminology and ideology is that America is already very much aware of the value of police officers’ lives so much so that the deaths of the officers were immediately addressed by the president, who also attended the funeral.
Rates of death for police officers are at an all-time low while killings have been at an all time high- 738 and counting according to the Washington Post compared to 96 cops killed this year in the line of duty.
When police officer death occurs it’s a tragedy, when black death occurs it is normalcy.
In using this language of Blue Lives Matters and centering the lives of police in response to conversations about black life this terminology serves to de-center and even mock movements that demand accountability for black lives. In addition to this, hate crime laws are meant to protect specific marginalized or targeted identities.
This would qualify police officers, agents of power under the state, as an ‘identity’ and one that is targeted and worthy of protection on its own ignoring the fact that being a police officer is not an identity, rather a job.
It is this language, this void of accountability for racist power abuse and black death as well as the co-option of hate crime legislation, legislation that has historically protected marginalized identities that harm is done. By claiming protection under hate crime legislation and refusing accountability, Blue lives matter bills and similar legislature insight a level of body terrorism and gas-lighting amongst the black and brown communities that are harmed.
Instead of acknowledging harm done and being accountable these bills shift the dominant narrative of victimhood onto police officers.
They also inflict a policy that has the potential to both silence, intimidate and further criminalize those who demand that black bodies are of value.
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In this co-option of hate crime language, black folks are gas lit into not believing their own realities into believing a narrative of which police officer becomes an identity category. Much more then that, police officers are made out to be an identity that is targeted much like their reality in America, instead of as a job or a position of power which hold ups the institutions of this country that have targeted them for so long.
By creating a false understanding of what accountability is and by evading accountability, the deaths of both police officers and victims of police brutality are invalidated.
In using the deaths of police officers as reason to qualify police officers as identities in need of protection, it further terrorizes black bodies and uses their deaths to force an agenda solely of avoidance rather than justice and protection.
This is especially upsetting when there are so many laws and ways of which citizens and protesters who attack, assault and kill cops can be convicted. In opposition to this police officers are almost never charged, tried or found guilty for the violence they commit and currently there is no legal pathway to charge an on duty officer for a hate crime.
Many activists who stand up in defense of black lives have begun to push back against these legislative measures and call them out. In Chicago, where a Blue Lives Matter ordinance has been proposed, the response activism has been primarily led by the Bluest Lie Collaboration, a group of young Chicago activists who banded together to put an end to the ordinance that may soon become a bill. In highlighting the title of police officers is not inherent identity, Chicago activists have been working long and hard for accountability. Through media, petitions and encouraging community members in Chicago contact their local alderman they have also expanded the language of accountability.
By encouraging community members to speak up about the ordinance and call out alderman and government officials who create legislative measures enabling officers this activism expands the language of accountability to include us all.
Now more than ever is it important to hold ourselves, our communities and our governments accountable for harm done. It is important that we value both the lost lives of police officers and black people who have died at the hands of officers through reflection of the harm done, through accountability for that harm and through change.
This means reassessing and evaluating the role of power, privilege and protection police officers are granted in our lives. This means holding people accountable for the violence that stems from their communities while also understanding and validating their rage, anger and despair that comes from existing in and under oppressive systems of anti-blackness. This means collectively coming to an understanding of the value and importance of all human life as a nation. Together, we all must learn to lovingly hold ourselves accountable for the violence that has ensued.
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[Feature Image: Four fair skin police officers stands outdoors in front of an abandoned building in full police uniform. Flickr.com/katie chao and ben muessig]