#BlueLivesMatter and Black Lives Matter are often compared. It’s impossible not to link the two movements with the tumultuous history of police brutality and the race of the Dallas and Baton Rouge shooters. Activists on both sides have been outspoken about the shootings, but #BlueLivesMatter isn’t as innocent as it seems.
There are key differences between the movements and the issues they represent. The killing of police officers is unjustifiable, but the anger toward them in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of black people at police officers hands can easily be justified as a response to their violent actions.
Media attention toward the death of police officers is perhaps the reason why Black Lives Matter is so important. The killers are immediately condemned, the officers regarded as heroes. In the case of black people killed by police officers, police departments often declare their support of the officer involved and the media often publish reports describing the victim as a ‘thug’ or otherwise depicting them maliciously. Unlike the anger at the police, no hostility toward black people as a group can be justified, and that is an important distinction between Black Lives Matter and #BlueLivesMatter.
While fatalities in both groups cannot be ignored, there is a key difference between the hostility they face. When police officers leave their workplace and change out of their uniform, they become just another citizen. They are, excluding other factors, no more likely to be killed than any other person. Black people face threats to their safety from racist violence, particularly from the police, 24 hours a day from the day they are born. There has been more than one case of black children being killed by police officers. Black people cannot opt out of racism the way police officers can opt out of wearing a uniform.
It’s also important to examine more deeply the Dallas and Baton Rouge cases. The shooters in both attacks were ex-military and spoke of a deep frustration with the government and anger over police shootings. It is my view that their military backgrounds cannot be dismissed as a factor. Though neither Micah Johnson, the Dallas shooter, nor Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, saw combat, they were both deployed in the Middle East and took part in military culture. The culture of state violence in the military, along with the rampant gun culture in the US could have lead to their anger being expressed through violence, unlike the peaceful protests that most Black Lives Matter campaigners take part in.
Murder is never justified, but the issues behind the mass shootings of police officers are immaterial compared to the structural racism faced by black people in the United States. #BlueLivesMatter is co-opting a powerful catchphrase for its own purposes and actively negating important activism done by Black Lives Matter.