All Lives Matter: Against Double Standards
People speaking for the victims of police violence have unreservedly condemned the recent killing of the two New York City police officers.
People speaking for the police never condemned the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
A double standard is obviously at work here. Those who protest the actions of killer-cops get at best mixed reactions from public officials. By contrast, the police at all levels express automatic solidarity with one another, no questions asked. They are upheld in this by the judicial system, which turns the usual indictment-process upside down when the defendants are police officers.
These institutional traits imply that violence exercised by the police is somehow more acceptable than violence directed against the police.
And now, as he comes under intense criticism from police organizations, New York Mayor De Blasio says that an attack on police officers is an attack on all citizens.
Why was it inconceivable for him to say something similar when Eric Garner was deliberately suffocated before all our eyes? or when the grand jury refused to indict officer Pantaleo?
Why should everyone be expected to identify more with fallen police officers than with their victims? This is where we confront the structural underpinnings of police violence.
Statements about the personal pain of survivors apply regardless of who is killed. Why should the suffering caused by racist cops be less universally felt than the suffering caused by a troubled individual who goes on a personal vendetta that ends up targeting random police officers?
The point is that all lives matter. The reason for the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is that this general principle is far from being universally honored. We know this because of the many expressions of support that were received by Darren Wilson after he killed Michael Brown.
When De Blasio says that we should call off protests in order to respect the slain police officers, we may well ask why public officials (at every level) did not call for a similar show of respect on the part of police toward those who marched in protest after cops killed defenseless black men.
Fortunately, many people are becoming aware of the grotesque power-imbalance reflected in these morally inconsistent responses. If the movement is to grow, however, we must build on this understanding.
See also my August 2014 column “Behind US Police Terror.”
Victor Wallis teaches at the Berklee College of Music and is the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy (http://sdonline.org), which in November 2014 published a special issue "The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor," co-edited by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernández.