Your Argument Sucks: Black Lives Matter & Systemic Racism
Your Argument Sucks is a recurring column where I tackle major arguments about the modern US political system by detailing actual facts through the narrative of historical context. All I ask is this: Go into these posts with an open mind and the ability to change said mind, if necessary, no matter which side of the argument you fall. I did. And because no matter how much you want to be right, no matter how much being wrong would flip your world upside down, being able to accept the facts and alter your opinion as necessary is a vital part of co-existing. And maybe, just maybe, your argument will no longer suck.
- “Blue/All Lives Matter!”
- “Defunding the Police is getting rid of the police!”
- “Black Lives Matter is an un-American, Marxist organization!”
- “Kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful and should be stopped!”
- “These protests are just violent riots!”
The Complex Explanation
There have been a million explanations centered around Black Lives Matter. There are those who try and say All Lives Matter. There are those who try and say Blue or Police Lives Matter. And, of course, there are those who try and push the true meaning of BLM to those that don’t understand. One of my favorite rebuttals is along these lines “If you have a problem with Black Lives Matter but not Blue Lives Matter, then the problem you have is with Black.”
And that’s true. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say you’re someone who rolls their eyes or rants about Black Lives Matter and turns around and says All or Blue in return. If you are anti-BLM and read this full article (and actually read and digest it, not just skim and ignore it) yet still feel anti-BLM, I want to hear your side in the comments below. So let’s break this down.
After World War II, many blacks migrated out of the south to escape flagrant racism. At the same time, whites were leaving the inner cities for the suburbs in reaction to the influx of blacks. Over time, businesses raised prices; banks made it harder for blacks to get mortgages (especially for predominantly white areas); access to jobs, insurance, and healthcare became harder; and other powerful entities (such as zoning offices) worked to continue segregation and oppression. Thus, black ghettos came into the picture, which then became more heavily policed.
Police forces came about quite differently between the north and south. The northern police units grew from voluntary watchmen, eventually becoming similar to the bureaucratic, full-time peacekeepers we think of today. In the south, however, police grew from Slave Patrols–those in charge of chasing after runaway slaves, stopping slave revolts, and working outside the law. These patrols, often vigilantes, grew into enforcers of Jim Crow laws post-Civil War.
Formal policing began due to urbanization and the rise of major businesses. These businessmen had much political control–or were politicians themselves–and worked to make as much money as possible, even if it meant poor conditions for workers. This led to unions and strikes (then called riots), which was bad for business. These merchants decided to put together a police force to help stop strikes, as well as keep an eye on those who would also be bad for business–i.e. poor, immigrants, and blacks. The police were highly corrupt, taking bribes from politicians to look the other way or to make certain questionable things happen. Police were meant to survey everyday life, with daily patrolling and an installation of fear to keep control. Even more controversial was the addition of uniforms and firearms, though particularly the latter, which began when police voluntarily carried them. Firearms were later formally instilled to much controversy. Many believed police were gaining too much power, though it was the rich elites who gave them that power who continued to push it through out of fear of the aforementioned subgroups.
Police were so entrenched in political favor, they also acted as public servants, doing duties beyond criminal activities in order to make sure their political donors look good. Prohibition brought with it organized crime, which was easily able to pay off many cops and corrupt others. There have been many attempts at reforming police, though most ended with little change. For example, in an effort to de-politicize, police departments created smaller sub-departments that dealt with individual types of crimes (traffic, narcotics, etc.). Though that just made it easier to corrupt, as there were fewer people to deal with.
Professionalism came next thanks to O.W. Wilson, who wanted to militarize the police force. Though, again, it did not turn out as expected. Many of his policies were repressive, cause in-fighting, and allowed easier targeting toward blacks. There was so much corruption and disagreement on policing that, ironically, unionization began from the late 60s to early 70s.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 60s got the brunt of this new, militarized police brutality. Peaceful protesting was turned to riots thanks to police brutality. And despite further attempts and change and reform, the core of policing has not much changed. The police are still a socio-political force that are less about crime fighting and more about the bureaucracy. Because of that, they tend to work hand-in-hand with the welfare of the prison system.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed. It proclaimed “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The 13th Amendment did not cancel racism. Slavery, technically, was over–but with a catch. If blacks were imprisoned, they could be treated as slaves or involuntary servants. In 1967, for example (barely over 50 years ago), Terrell Don Hutto ran a cotton plantation in Texas that used mostly black convicts to pick cotton. He eventually went on to co-found the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now CoreCivic, the biggest for-profit prison system in the country.
Prisons have been used as a loophole for slavery since slavery ended, though it was the privatization of prisons that exploded the issue. After 1983, when private prisons opened in the US, prison counts skyrocketed. Since the 1980s, prison population in the US has gone from 250,000 to over 2 million (and the highest per capita)–the next closest country to us is China at 1.7 million, the only other country over a million. Most are well below. Prisons became more about making a profit than rehabilitation. In fact, almost half of federal prisons are filled with non-violent drug-related crimes, many of whom are people of color.
The War on Drugs took drug addiction from being people needing help to being dangerous criminals that needed to be locked up rather than rehabilitated (which, in effect, should be the same thing–but isn’t). This was only exacerbated by privatized prisons looking to make a profit for the number of inmates. And the easiest group already heavily policed in poverty-heavy areas and surrounded by corruption, drugs, and a history of inequality and systemic violence? You guessed it.
Black Lives Matter is simply the newest incarnation of an age-old battle. Let’s start with what Black Lives Matter is: BLM is a civil rights movement attempting to bring awareness and change to racism and, in particular, police brutality (and unjust criminal charges in general) toward African American citizens. The movement began gaining traction when NFL player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in protest and has since gained traction through the news due to continued assaults and murders from police officers toward black citizens, such as the recent George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
And all along the way, people (primarily conservatives) have fought against it. There have been copious arguments, and I want to talk about them. The problem with almost every argument against BLM is that they are logical fallacies–in particular, red herring fallacies. A logical fallacy is an improper argument technique that might sound right, but there is an issue with its logic. In short, it doesn’t make sense even though it seems it should. A red herring fallacy is taking a similarly themed idea that actually has nothing to do with the issue at hand and using it to argue against the initial point.
For example, take the following rebuttals: “If black lives matter, then why is the black abortion rate so high? I guess black baby lives don’t matter, huh?” Or even “If you’re arguing black lives matter, then what about all the black-on-black crime in (choose a city (usually Chicago)).” These arguments seem legitimate. If it’s more about black lives and not, say, anarchy or reverse-racism, then why are blacks focusing on police and not each other? But this is a red herring in that it ignores the fundamental situation at hand. Are those also legitimate concerns? Yes. But there’s more to it than just that, and they have nothing to do with racism culture and police brutality, which are also major issues–even bigger, in fact. Also, you don’t say white-on-white crime. The notion of “black-on-color” violence implies that black people are inherently more violent and is itself a racist notion.
And then there’s the debate toward kneeling during the national anthem, specifically at sports events. “It’s disrespectful to our country and our troops” and “a sporting event is no place for politics” are the primary arguments. First, the inclusion of the National Anthem at sporting events inherently makes it political. Yet flag code asks that you stand during the anthem with your hand over your heart, if able.
But flag code is not law–it’s a guide on showing respect. Now to be fair, many on the other side of the debate point out how flag code does not seem to be adhered to otherwise (flags should not be shown on articles of clothing, used as advertisement, or emblazoned on merchandise, and the same people arguing disrespect toward kneeling are disrespectful in those ways). This, while true, is a tu quoque fallacy–or appeal to hypocrisy. The fallacy here is showing the hypocrisy while ignoring the initial argument. The reason this fallacy is not completely off base, however, is two-fold: 1) you cannot argue flag code while also ignoring most of the flag code, and 2) the initial argument is not entirely correct; kneeling is not inherently disrespectful.
Kneeling has never had a historical connection to disrespect. People knelt before royalty or religious personages as a sign of respect. In fact, kneeling as a form of protest has a religious context. The 1960s saw kneel-ins outside churches as a sign of peaceful, respectful protest against white churches that banned blacks from worshiping. Regardless, the entire point of protesting is to make a statement that many people will not like. To argue against a form of protest because it bothers you shows a blatant misunderstanding of the concept.
But what about when protesting is no longer peaceful? What about the violent protests, riots, looting, etc.? Although I am in particular speaking to the recent protests, I would like to point at the similarities to past protests, as previously mentioned. The vast majority–and I do mean almost all–of the riots, looting, and violence has not come from the BLM protesters. Many peaceful protests were infiltrated by white supremacists who then caused said violence in order to degrade the movement. Many others were spurred on by the police. Almost every single protest wherein the police department worked with the protesters or let them be incurred no rioting. In short, the violence was not incited by the protesters in almost every case. It is being advertised as such, however, to bring further negative connotations and end the protesting.
And that brings us to Blue and All Lives Matter, the most popular rebuttals. The problem with these statements is that they immediately say, in response to BLM, “No.” Black Lives Matter. “No, Blue Lives Matter.” You’re saying police lives are more important and matter more than black lives. This isn’t an equality argument (“Blue Lives Matter just as much as Black Lives”). It isn’t equality because Blue Lives Matter was created as a counterpoint.
Are there good cops? Of course. But there are also too many bad ones for comfort in a system designed from the ground up in corruption and racism, and that is the focus here. African Americans are killed at twice the rate by police as white Americans and incarcerated almost 10 times more.
Also, there is an inherent contradiction in saying “All Lives Matter” as a refute to “Black Lives Matter”: as a counter to BLM, what you’re actually saying is black lives don’t matter (“no”), automatically making “All Lives Matter” false and self-contradictory the second it comes into existence.
Important Note: It is not saying that only Black Lives Matter, but that Black Lives Matter In This Situation That Is Being Fundamentally And Systemically Ignored, And We Are Trying To Bring Awareness To It Because By Ignoring It And Continuing To Let It Happen, It Appears That Black Lives Don’t Matter–But They Do. That’s just not as catchy.
So what is the solution? Many think it’s to “Defund the Police,” a term that has caused much uproar. However, the general misunderstanding is that Defund the Police means to get rid of the police and their resources, with some people theorizing that it is meant to create anarchy similar to the CHAZ/CHOP area in Seattle. This is not the case.
Defunding the Police means to lower the massive funding of police officers in an effort to de-politicize and have them focused only on issues that require crime investigation, as they are meant. Police tend to be spread thin, tackling too many sectors, and many of which they are hardly trained or qualified for handling. It’s these situations–mental health calls, domestic disputes, de-escalation scenarios, etc.–that would be handled by therapists, doctors, and other professionals actually trained in those areas and situations (and yes, they already handle violent and dangerous situations now). It isn’t getting rid of the police–it’s just a massive reform on public services and safety, which would, in turn, help stabilize racial tension and inequality in the eyes of the law.
But is Black Lives Matter the way to go about this? Is this a slogan worth protesting under? Many conservatives point to the fact that Black Lives Matter, as an organization, is Marxist, anti-American, and dangerous. And, well, they’re right. In 2013, after the killing of Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, a hashtag appeared on Twitter indicating #BlackLivesMatter.
Think of this moment as a fork in the road. If you take the path to the right, you’ll find the three people who shared that tweet: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi–the former two claiming to be well-versed Marxists. They went on to create the website and organization Black Lives Matter (Trademark). But if you take the path to the left, you’ll follow the civil right movement called Black Lives Matter–completely unassociated with the organization outside of a shared name and general sentiment.
Therefore, the issue, really, is that if you’re arguing almost anything against Black Lives Matter rather than admitting there is a major national crisis, you’re simply saying black lives do not matter. It’s that simple. Perhaps that is not your meaning or intent, but that is exactly what is happening.
- Saying Blue or All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter is inherently racist or racism-based.
- Defunding the Police is not getting rid of police but restructuring how social services in communities work, giving the correct jobs to the properly trained professionals.
- Black Lives Matter as an organization is actually Marxist in nature. However, the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement is associated in name and inspiration only and has nothing else to do with the website or organization.
- Kneeling has a history as a respectful gesture and is a form of peaceful protest, in this case, meant to cause a reaction. That’s the whole idea of a protest.
- The riots have been largely incited by white supremacists or hostile police. The majority of protests where police have stayed out of the picture have been completely peaceful.