Saturday, July 25, 2015


The other day I listened to an NPR interview with the woman who first put the hashtag in front of the slogan "Black Lives Matter", making those three words a public call to arms against the assault on the lives of African American people (mostly men) at the hands of the police and other individuals or groups entrusted with law enforcement. She expressed her discontent with the fact that the slogan has been appropriated by other groups who have replaced the word "Black" with whatever particular group they care to call out injustice against. The most recent controversy around the slogan has been the replacement of "Black" with the word "All". Several presidential candidates have made the mistake of proclaiming something so obvious that it doesn't need to be said at all. Those candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, have been put in the peculiar situation of having to retract their claim that all lives matter.

This may sound like political correctness taken to its most ridiculous extreme but the funny thing is this, I get it. This country has a sad history of proclaiming that black lives do not matter, and there continues to be to this day, a divide between the treatment of black people in this society, and everybody else.

The righteous indignation over far too many deaths of individuals, most of them black, at the hands of the police, is justified in my opinion, The slogan, black lives matter rings loud and clear, standing on its own.

What I don't get is this. If black lives matter, why is the discussion of black people killed by other black people considered irrelevant to this conversation?

As an example, last year, 2014, Chicago had a total of 459 homicides. 353 of the victims, or 78.1 percent, were black. This in a city whose black population is around 32 percent. Of those murders that resulted in an individual being charged, 68.8 percent of the suspects were black.

In the same year, 17 people were killed by the police in Chicago. (I don't have the racial breakdown of the individuals involved or the circumstances of those killings). 17 deaths at the hands of the police in one city is certainly not a number to be discounted, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the total number of homicides in Chicago last year.

To me anyway, these numbers suggest an epidemic of violence particular to the African American, and to a lesser extent the Hispanic communities of Chicago, which is a microcosm of the United States. We've been through this before, the causes of this epidemic are deeply rooted in history, racism, poverty, drugs, lack of opportunity, poor education, the dissolution of the family, lack of self-respect, and self-responsibility, the list goes on and on, depending upon the ideologies of the people you talk to.

The killing of black people by the police speaks to a brutal past, traces of which tragically exist to this day. But the grim reality of the present is that black people are dying at the hands of other black people at a staggering rate. All the indignation in the world directed at the police is not going to change that. Addressing one issue without addressing the other is either naive of intellectually dishonest.

But what do I know, I'm just an old white guy who should probably keep my mouth shut on this topic.

Here's what a black man has to say.

OK maybe this sports commentator doesn't have any more right to spout off on the issue than I do but I think his concern is valid: many seem to believe that the only black lives that matter are the ones that are taken by non-black people.

I'll add a new twist to the slogan. Saying that all black lives matter does not let anyone off the hook, not the police, the criminals or the politicians, not the community, its leaders, or the clergy, and not you or me. We don't live in a vacuum and that goes for our problems too. Pointing fingers or arguing about slogans won't solve anything. Only when we're able to honestly look at ourselves and talk to each other, especially those with whom we disagree, will we be able to start to address the issues that shape our community.

So far we're failing.

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