…All lives matter! So, why this “BLM” movement?
Most White Americans are not aware of the extent and nature of racial inequality and injustice in towns and cities across our country.
We’re not aware of or don’t acknowledge our “White privilege.” We’re not “personally racist”—but we don’t recognize the historic and ongoing structural and systemic racism in America. We don’t personally experience racism because of our white privilege. We don’t hear about stories of racist acts because most White Americans don’t have friends who are “persons of color.”
The nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd have revealed the “other side” of American injustice. More of us now see our own lives as examples of “White privilege.” We are hearing and taking more seriously the stories and vivid images of racial injustice against Blacks and other persons of color. More of us understand the significance of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
We’ve still got a long way to go, as evidenced by the ever-present “…but…” word in trying to understand or justify another police killing of an unarmed Black man.
Black lives matter, “but” what? Throughout U.S. history we have not acted as if Black lives matter as much as White lives. Blacks have not been treated equally: not in housing, home mortgage loans, equal quality schools and education, equal employment opportunities, and more. Blacks who did military service were not offered the GI Bill for low-interest home loans and financial support for college like White veterans who served. Black lives do not matter equally in America.
We add the word “but” to explain why another unarmed Black man was shot by police. “Okay, the suspect was not armed, but….” But what? Explanations vary. “The officer feared for his life; the suspect was not cooperative; the suspect was running away; the suspect resembled a man wanted in a drug deal, a theft, a bank robbery, or….”
George Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. No weapon, no lethal threat, but….
The fact is that officers sworn to protect and serve all citizens equally in enforcing laws frequently act as if Black lives matter less than other citizens.
In an interview last week, our president disputed the “Black Lives Matter” movement saying that white suspects are fatally shot by police too—in fact, more Whites than Blacks are killed by police. Was he right? Yes, technically he was correct. But like most facts and numbers, it’s a little more complicated than that. Any comparisons must report the rates, not just the numbers.
Blacks comprise only 13% of the American population while Whites make up 73%. Compared with their relatively small proportion of the 331 million people in the U.S., the rate of Blacks killed by police is more than twice the rate of White Americans killed by police.
Black Americans: 31 per million of U.S. population
White Americans: 13 per million of U.S. population
Research on the number and rate of police killings is complicated by the fact that there is no single database that records the number by the race of the person killed. Available sources include:
The president’s comment that more Whites than Blacks are killed each year by police is shared by many Americans. After correcting for the rate of persons killed according to their proportion of the population, I did a review of recent studies of police killings. The findings reveal more differences in those killed by police, and offer more support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
A Study of Homicides by Police. Researchers analyzed 1,552 police killings in 16 states over an 8-year period between 2005-2012 and found the rate of Black Americans killed was .48 compared to a rate of .17 for White Americans killed. An estimated average of 731 people were killed by law enforcement officials each year in the United States during the study period.
Risk of being killed by police in the U.S. African American men and women face a higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the life course than are white men. For young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death. Researchers concluded that their findings support policies to treat police violence as a public health issue; and the findings have profound consequences for democracy, racial inequality, and injustice.
Police brutality and racial bias. Out of the approximately 1,000 persons killed each year by law-enforcement officers in the U. S., Black people who are fatally shot by police are two times more likely than white people to be unarmed. Analyses found differences between White and Black officers in use of deadly force. White officers dispatched to Black neighborhoods fired their guns five times as often as Black officers dispatched for similar calls to the same neighborhoods.
A Typology of U.S. citizens shot and killed by police. Analyses of police killings of citizens noted significant differences in the race, ethnicity, and level of threat posed. Black Americans were disproportionately more likely to be killed by law enforcement and were disproportionately less likely to present an objective threat of deadly force than White Americans who were killed by police.
Yes, “All Lives Matter”—but the “Black Lives Matter” movement addresses the documented fact that Black lives do not seem to matter equally in police encounters.
A Theology of “Black Lives Matter”
If the United States truly acted as if “all lives matter” we would not have higher rates of Black Americans killed by police. If Americans insisted on police and all justice officials treating all citizens equally we would not see these disproportionate rates of citizens killed by police. Despite the claims of many Americans, this is not “one nation under God.”
“God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Black people, like all people, are made in “the image of God” and should be treated that way.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
“You shall love the alien (foreigner, stranger) as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The Apostle Paul writing to one of the earliest Christian churches emphasized equality of all persons. The three most divisive barriers between humans—race, class, and gender—were meant to be overcome by those following the life and teachings of Jesus.