Black Lives Matter: Good at Raising Awareness — But That Won’t Reduce Police Killings

Black Lives Matter RAises Awareness

Black Lives Matter Raises protesters demonstrate inside the LAPD Commission meeting (Nick Ut/AP)

South Los Angeles this weekend, protests erupted over the LAPD killing of a black man long before there was enough information to say why, exactly, the officer had used lethal force or if he was justified in doing so. About two weeks earlier, the police killing of a black man in Charlotte, N.C., also triggered protests — again before all the relevant details were public. Both of the men who died were armed.

Prioritizing awareness — as Black Lives Matter seems to do — makes perfect sense if the goal is to make justice more likely in police killings that have already happened. But is this tactic enough to reduce the incidence of future killings?

It’s not hard to understand why some protesters act before all the facts are in. They are outraged by the frequency of police killings. Enough are captured on video, and appear unwarranted when those recordings are released, to keep many African American communities in a state of distrust. Police officers may recoil at being presumed guilty; activists may risk their credibility if they pounce on ambiguous cases; and protests may turn violent. But some in the Black Lives Matter movement still think a speedy reaction is necessary: Not only are immediate protests a means to vent frustration, they also make it less likely that local authorities or the news media will ignore a given killing.

To my mind, prioritizing awareness — as Black Lives Matter seems to do — makes perfect sense if the goal is to make justice more likely in police killings that have already happened. But is this tactic enough to reduce the incidence of future killings?

Black Lives Matter has certainly succeeded in making black shooting victims household names: Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling. The list goes on. And now an allied group of professional athletes are calling attention to the fact that the United States has far more deadly police shootings than any comparable democracy — and that black men are killed disproportionately in those shootings.

Conor Friedersdorf
Los Angeles Times

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