COMMENTARY: ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be more than just a slogan

The question is: “Do black lives really matter?” As you look across the nation there is so much violence. Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some black communities. “Black Lives Matter” is a great slogan.

As an African-American woman, I agree that black lives matter just as much as the lives of any of our racial counterparts. But chanting, marching and hashtag activism aren’t going to work unless we also are willing to see the big-picture problems affecting black America. We need change and to self-evaluate some of our actions and take responsibility for what we do!

Protests have shaken St. Louis County since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer in August of 2014. Baltimore was also the site of large-scale protests following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who died after a “rough ride” in a police van in April.

Broughton, Alisha by .

Dr. Alisha Broughton

Residents took to the streets of Chicago after video footage showing the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was released. The Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter has rallied for justice in the fatal police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark since November — even in the face of a terrorist attack directed toward them. St. Louis Police Department had a rate of 9.5 police killings per 1 million residents, while Baltimore’s was 4.8 per 1 million.

Chicago sits at 2.9 per 1 million and Minneapolis’ rate is 2.5 per million. Do black lives matter?

Black Lives Matter has done the nation a service by forcing Americans to reckon with a horrifying spate of police killings of unarmed African Americans.

Without the movement, the names Eric Garner and Walter Scott wouldn’t resonate. Nor would Sandra Bland, who died in police custody and whose name was invoked during the most-recent presidential debate. Despite this, Black Lives Matter has been severely taken to task, if not outright scorned, for its focus on police killings when, as its critics readily note, people in black neighborhoods are often at much more danger of being killed by other black people.

The United States prison [population] has more than quadrupled since the 1980s, and this nation incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other developed county in modern history — at a cost of $85 billion per year.

The United States holds only 5 percent of the world’s population; it [contains] a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The criminal system has never been equal across society, and that raises a lot of other problems. When 60 percent of a nation’s incarcerated population is black — a group that comprises only 13 percent of the said nation’s population total — individual responsibility cannot, alone, explain the phenomenon.

Yet, one in three black men can reliably expect to go to prison at some point in their lives. Black youth have the highest rates of juvenile incarceration. Even more ominous, 58 percent of black youth convicted of a crime are sent to adult prisons. So, what do we do, because black lives do matter!

Black lives matter! Not only is it questionable if black lives really do matter to blacks themselves, but one could also sincerely question if deep self-hate is responsible for motivating blacks to kill themselves off with the recklessness that seems to permeate our actions.

Combining the black victims of abortion and black-on-black homicides, we are facing an assault on black lives that has nothing to do with racist, white cops.

If we don’t take our own lives seriously, why should we expect or demand that anyone else do so? I believe black lives matter. It’s more than an Internet hashtag to me. But black lives should matter to black folk at least as much as they matter to others. Black lives have to matter just as much when blacks take them.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice analysis, most murders are intraracial, and “93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks” between 1980 and 2008. In a black-white comparison, black homicide victimization rates were around six times higher than for whites.

Furthermore, blacks were 47.4 percent of all homicide victims and 52.5 percent of offenders. Blacks accounted for 62.1 percent of all drug-related homicide victims, compared to 36.9 percent for whites. Over 65.6 percent — almost two-thirds — of all drug-related homicide offenders were black, as compared to 33.2 percent being white. Blacks were 44.1 percent of felony-murder victims and almost 59.9 percent of the offenders. So, do black lives matter? We are killing each other.

Black lives do matter, but what are we going to do about it? Black Lives Matter is a broad umbrella for social justice campaigns to eradicate poverty and unemployment, overhaul the public education and health care systems, reduce the prison population and end racial profiling. Black Lives Matter quickly moved from social media to the streets due to the low barrier to entry for the movement. Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account, a smartphone and a basic belief in social justice could and did join the movement.

In 2013, the movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter became nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown — that resulted in protests and unrest in Ferguson — and Eric Garner in New York City.

Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody, including those of Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose and Freddie Gray. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter began to publicly challenge politicians — including politicians in the 2016 United States presidential election — to state their positions on BLM issues.

The overall Black Lives Matter movement, however, is a decentralized network and has no formal hierarchy or structure. How can you be active and change black lives?

Editor’s note: Dr. Alisha Broughton is a college professor, author and civil-rights activist residing in Milton.

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