Temporarily suspending judgment on the recent police shootings of black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling does not mean I don’t think black lives matter.
David Marcus wrote recently here at The Federalist that white people don’t really think black lives matter—at least, not as much as they should. The article is called “This Week, We Are All Black Lives Matter,” but he really means that only black people are Black Lives Matter (BLM). This is false and needlessly divisive.
Marcus sees the gunning down of black people by police as an epidemic white people acknowledge, but they’ve been so far unconvinced “there is a crisis going on.” He writes, “What the term [Black Lives Matter] really means is that black lives don’t matter. Not enough, anyway. This is an ugly concept for white Americans to accept. But it is a daily reality for America’s blacks.”
Marcus brushes off crime statistics baked into the arguments of BLM skeptics. These includee statistics such as: blacks are charged with the majority of robberies, murders, and assaults in the 75 largest counties, meaning cops may encounter a higher proportion of blacks than whites in potentially lethal situations. As a percentage of total homicides, 12 percent of white and Hispanic deaths are due to police, while only 4 percent of black homicides are due to police. Ignoring those who point things like this out, Marcus instead issues an indictment of white America: “As black Americans shout, yell, and cry that their lives matter, the eerie silence of white Americans carefully balancing causes and solutions whispers back, ‘No, they don’t.’”
It’s Simply Wise to Wait Until the Facts Are In
According to Marcus, white America has been silent, and “respectful silence” is apparently unacceptable, even as a hyperactive media spins out of control with toxic levels of conjecture and too few concrete facts. Many of us were silent for a time after Michael Brown was shot and killed, even as the pits of our stomach filled with horror reading the initial tweets covering the tragedy. We were ultimately glad we had restrained ourselves and did not let visceral rage crowd out any room to accept new information or lines of reasoning.
It was painful to see a mother lose her son, and to see young life cut down in violence. But what did we learn? We learned that “hands up, don’t shoot” was a lie. We learned Brown wasn’t shot in the back while running away. We learned that Officer Darren Wilson had good reason to fear for his life and was, according to a grand jury, justified in shooting Brown.
The videos of Sterling and Castile’s recent deaths are jarring and horrifying, but even cameras don’t tell the whole story. Consider this video, for instance, documenting a traffic stop from the moment the officers approach the vehicle to the final violent conclusion. It took three body camera angles watched multiple times and played in slow motion for me to even glimpse the driver’s gun, and even then I was shocked. Who would have thought this seemingly calm individual who obeyed every order from the officer would turn violent?
Facts Steer Us Towards Addressing the Real Problems
Empathy for the suffering is critical, and feelings matter. Humans are meant to relate to one another emotionally, and to deny the fear, heartache, and horror many black people are experiencing based on these events is wrong. To deny cops’s fears they may be gunned down for their profession or viciously smeared for a lethal confrontation between races is wrong also. Feelings matter, but so do facts. Always.
Without facts, we cannot move toward real solutions. Without facts, we let our passions launch us ever deeper into our own personal realities, into deep, narrow pockets of spite, prejudice, and ignorance from which we cannot view any inconvenient truths, nor even the different experienced realities of others. Having isolated ourselves into our respective “sides,” we cease to empathize, listen, and cooperate toward common goals.
Facts alone cannot change the course of events. Marcus is right that passion is a critical component for any social reform. But facts, valid information, are the basis for meaningful dialogue that leads to effective and positive change. Without them, partisanship and prejudice spin us further into chaos.
Some of us are waiting for more information, and for any initial misinformation to dissipate. Hopefully we are not waiting for the “right” information—that is, information that fits conveniently into our worldview, at which point we launch into our pre-meditated opinions. But we are not in error to wait for the fog to clear before launching into a full-throated argument for this side or that. While many white Americans may be reticent to opine on very recent police shootings, or may not be as “angry and animated” as Marcus would want, our silence by no means indicates a complacency that rises to the level of “black lives don’t matter.”
Police Brutality Is Not the Black Community’s Only Problem
In fact, many whites have been begging America to address the disproportionately high number of black-on-black homicides, gang violence, high school dropout rates, levels of poverty, and family breakdown for a long time. Black lives do matter, independent of the color of uniform or skin of the people who end them. Rebecca Cusey’s recent article discussing her experience living in a majority-black neighborhood casts a bright light on the tragedies afflicting the black community, tragedies we absolutely must be concerned about.
Maybe BLM is right to assert police brutality doesn’t rank high enough on our list of priorities for aiding the black community, but the point is that our care for black lives expands beyond BLM’s narrow scope to cover these other struggles, many of which contribute to the black community’s high homicide rate.
May God rightly judge us for any complacency in unjustified violent deaths, but surely we should not be judged by others for temporarily reserving our judgement on new, highly controversial incidents, either.