The grassroots “Black Lives Matter” movement can trace its roots to the killing of Trayvon Martin and the ultimate acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri a year ago yesterday launched the movement into a wider consciousness. It maintains a necessary and urgent currency, sadly, due to multiple other incidents of police brutality since, often lethal, against black people, including Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray.
There is a tendency to alter the phrase “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” or some other variation. I’m sure you’ve seen this on Facebook or wherever. While, in some cases, the people doing this believe they’re offering some greater and more universal message of peace and inclusion, it fundamentally misses the point.
OF COURSE all people’s lives matter. However, for numerous reasons, black people’s lives have always been thought to matter less, to the point where their killings at the hands of police aren’t even seen as a crime. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not to say that others don’t. It’s to remind people that, while society seems to value all lives, it needs to be reminded to value black lives too. Or, as one of the founders of the movement, Alicia Garza, once put it:
“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that black lives, which are seen as without value within white supremacy, are important to your liberation.”
As such, to alter the phrase in this construction is to negate the idea behind Black Lives Matter. To reject the very notion that there has ever been treatment of black people as something less than equal and worthy of protection by the laws of our nation. Which is, of course, absurd, as a look at both history and recent headlines of state-sanctioned violence against black people makes plain.
Which brings us to the Staten Island Yankees game last night. Where a promotion was held in the memory of Detectives Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, two New York City police officers who were killed in the line of duty last December. Which, obviously, is a worthy cause to which no one can object as far as that goes. What one can object to, however, is how the night was named and presented: As “Blue Lives Matter” Day, with that slogan and the Staten Island Yankees logo printed on wristbands:
Not insensitive at all, Staten Island Yankees! pic.twitter.com/rlFZQ5mw9Z
— Aaron Fischer (@AaronFisch) August 9, 2015
That this promotion, not to mention the entire “Blue Lives Matter” movement, co-opted “Black Lives Matter” shows that the Staten Island Yankees — as so many else who try to co-opt the slogan — don’t get what “Black Lives Matter” is all about. That it occurred in Staten Island, where a man was choked to death last year for a minor offense, shows how insulated the Staten Island Yankees are from the very community whose slogan they co-opted. That it occurred on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing, which catalyzed the “Black Lives Matter” movement, is simply inexcusable.
The Huffington Post spoke to the Staten Island Yankees, whose spokesperson called it an unfortunate and unintended coincidence. I want to believe that is true. I want to believe it’s an instance of some people who simply think about baseball promotions and otherwise lead rather uncurious and unexamined lives and just failed to see the problem with all of this.
But then again, I’d like to believe all citizens face the same sorts of risks and dangers and are all treated equally in the eyes of the law, too. And I know damn well that isn’t true.