Last night, watching TV, I felt my heart sink. As I read the news crawl stating that five Dallas police officers had been killed after an anti-police-brutality protest, two distinct waves of terror washed over me. It was a sensation I hadn’t felt since the Rodney King verdict, when, as a 9-year-old boy, I saw adults in my family crying because they felt there was nothing they could do to protect me or my sister from state-sponsored violence. “But this was on tape!” my mother screamed at the time.
The first wave that hit me last night centered on my concern for the families of the deceased police officers. My mind went to a friend, so close to me I consider him a brother, who’s now in law enforcement. The thought of him lying face-down in a pool of his own blood, taken from his wife and newborn son, sent me reeling.
The second wave hit me even harder, and I was unable to shake it for the rest of the night, but it was far harder to pin down. After pacing for hours, I realized I was frightened that the Dallas shooting was proof “they” were right — that black liberation is just too big and complicated and difficult to ever become a reality.
The national conversation in the immediate aftermath of the shooting was toxic. I saw people piling on a black man who was incorrectly IDed as a suspect by the Dallas Police Department, and former GOP congressman Joe Walsh tweet a thinly veiled threat to President Obama. I felt such absolute despair because if we can’t have productive conversations about equality now, while Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s bullet-ridden bodies are at the forefront of our minds, I worry our revolution will stagnate — the progress we’ve made will fade away, and we’ll be left with the same society we had prior to the advent of Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter is an incredibly important entity in our society. Obviously all black people are not going to agree with everything BLM does and says, but in battling white supremacy, achieving any kind of progress often involves being exposed to an uncompromising viewpoint. For instance, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was in many ways aided by Malcolm X, because Malcolm’s “by any means necessary” approach gave perspective to King’s non-violence — without Malcolm, Dr. King would represent extremism.
In this election cycle, the presidential candidates (or the Democratic ones, at least) were essentially forced to say “Black Lives Matter” — not “All Lives Matter” or “Black Lives Matter Along With Everyone Else,” but simply “Black Lives Matter.” BLM protesters have not only created a conversation on that most important of national stages, they’ve contextualized it to the point that politicians vying for the highest office in the land have had to become familiar with its ethos.
If the Black Lives Matter movement were seen in our society as nothing more than domestic terrorism (à la the Black Panther Party), unapologetic black pride would become an endeavor for the fringes, and fractures would emanate throughout our community. The relative sense of unity felt by black folks — which obviously isn’t absolute, but is definitely increasing — would be replaced by survival and individualism, the same qualities that existed in the Eighties when many in the “Cosby class” reveled in their opportunity while poor blacks experienced crushing socioeconomic realities.
There have been numerous under-appreciated social justice advocates and organizations fighting systemic racism over the past several decades, and they will not go away, even if Black Lives Matter became a pejorative. But this movement, along with BYP 100, FLY, the Trauma Center Coalition and the #LetUsBreathe Collective, has ushered in a movement that has encapsulated an entire generation.
For so many years in America, black folks — and especially those leading the charge for equal rights — have been told the price for our freedom is more expensive than the nation can immediately bear. (Think Lyndon B. Johnson telling Dr. King he needed to wait for black suffrage.) The idea behind Black Lives Matter is that we deserved equality yesterday, and we’re not going to be hustled into believing it will magically come tomorrow, so give it to us today. That message is the lynchpin to engaging the black community, including non-activists. And I would hate to see it dissolve.