The politics of racial grievance took center stage in 2015. Leading the way was an ad hoc nationwide group known as Black Lives Matter (BLM). Menacing, confrontational and adept in social media, its activists are recruiting blacks, the younger the better, as foot soldiers for disruptive protests rivaling those organized by the master of the trade, Al Sharpton. Like Sharpton, the group claims to seek justice for blacks who have lost their lives at the hands of “racist” white police and vigilantes. And like Sharpton, their style involves character assassination, cause-and-effect distortion, and threats. In recent weeks, BLM activists – there are now nearly 30 chapters – have blocked urban thoroughfares, stormed college campus offices, and disrupted presidential candidate speeches. Woe unto those who fail to meet their demands.
The idea that black lives matter shouldn’t strike anyone as controversial. All lives matter. But that’s not the rock upon which Black Lives Matter stands. BLM decidedly is not an ecumenical human rights organization, a la Amnesty International. The leaders of this decentralized motley crew operate on the paranoid assumption that American blacks are targets of a systematic campaign of white-sponsored genocide. Mass resistance, whether nonviolent or otherwise, in their eyes is thus necessary, with the ends justifying the means. Example: On the afternoon of December 23, several protestors from the group’s Los Angeles chapter shut down the southbound Interstate 405 Freeway in suburban Inglewood for the better part of a half-hour. Several of them spray-painted slogans on the pavement and scrawled the names of blacks “murdered” by police. The protestors were arrested, but not without BLM issuing a statement which read in part: “On one of the busiest travel days of the year, Black Lives Matter is calling for a halt on Christmas as usual in memorial of all of the loved ones we have lost and continue to lose this year to law enforcement violence without justice or recourse.” The group also demanded the firing of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the awarding of reparations by the City of Los Angeles to victims of police brutality.
This sort of obnoxious and criminal behavior, the by-product of decades of proselytizing, is based on a false reading of reality. As with more established civil rights groups, Black Lives Matter is highly selective and reckless with facts. They cite the deaths of certain black individuals as evidence of an ongoing white-directed pogrom, yet ignore key details which almost inevitably point to a justifiable use of police or private force. The unstated goal of BLM appears to be the acquisition of power and money. By forcing the resignation of certain whites from positions of authority, they can get compliant replacements. To an extent, they have succeeded. Black Lives Matter, also known by its Twitter hashtag, “#Black Lives Matter,” is built on disruption, intimidation and contempt for anyone who doesn’t accede to their demands. In pursuing “justice,” they have no problem denying it to others. The question arises: How did this movement come so far, so fast?
Black Lives Matter coalesced in July 2013 in the immediate wake of a Florida state jury’s acquittal of a Sanford, Fla. white anti-crime patrol volunteer, George Zimmerman, in the shooting death the previous year of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Its three principal founders, each a black female – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi – had met through a nationwide activist training organization, Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity (BOLD). Like many blacks, they were enraged that Zimmerman was not convicted of murder. Yet as I noted at length at the time, the jury made the right call. Martin had assaulted Zimmerman without provocation, not the other way around. Zimmerman’s use of lethal force, after he had been slammed to the ground, was indisputably an act of self-defense. The evidence for a conviction not only failed to rise to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, it failed to rise at all. This case never should have been brought forward. It was driven entirely by an online and real-time political campaign waged by activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and encouraged by Sharpton’s close friend, President Barack Obama. Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, in her great haste to put a trophy on her wall, engaged in professional misconduct so blatant as to merit her disbarment.
The prosecution’s case was nonexistent, but the stock of Black Lives Matter would rise anyway. The group emerged as a first-string political player a year later in the aftermath of another shooting, this one in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Around noon on August 9, 2014, a local white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot to death a violent 18-year-old black male, Michael Brown, in the middle of a residential street. Numerous and unsubstantiated reports cast Brown as a noble victim, a harmless gentle giant executed from behind while surrendering with his hands up. He was anything but that. Area and outside black activists, seemingly unable to distinguish rumor from fact, descended upon Ferguson, set up camp, and demanded the prosecution of Wilson (whose identity, in fact, initially had been kept secret for his own protection) and the resignation of top municipal officials. Al Sharpton came in from New York for an extended visit. A number of demonstrators went the extra mile, looting and setting fire to two convenience stores, including one Brown had robbed just before his fatal confrontation. Three months later, in November, a St. Louis County grand jury, after exhaustively reviewing the evidence, declined to indict Wilson for murder. As with the George Zimmerman case, this was a sound decision. The “unarmed” Michael Brown, in fact, had sucker-punched Officer Wilson while the latter was sitting in his patrol car, attempted to steal Wilson’s service revolver (with the obvious intention of using it against him), and then, after leaving the immediate area on foot, wheeled around and charged at Wilson, who was standing in the middle of the street, at top speed. Wilson’s lethal response was an act of self-defense. By contrast, eyewitness testimony on behalf of Brown was confused, contradictory or fabricated. Undeterred by facts, black mobs responded with rioting far more destructive than three months earlier. And as a coda, they conducted a mass demonstration in the streets of Ferguson in March 2015 during which a participant shot two police officers, though not fatally. They also succeeded in forcing the resignations of the Ferguson city manager and police chief, plus a municipal judge. The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, from the start was busy investigating the possibilities of filing a hate crime complaint. The DOJ was unable to discover anything that would stick, but it did conduct and release a highly suspect study of racial disparities in Ferguson police behavior that may serve as a basis for an out-of-court civil settlement.
Black Lives Matter played a prominent role in this sequence of events. In August 2014 the group organized “freedom rides” to Ferguson, bringing in more than 500 blacks from around the country. BLM organizers on the streets of that suburb worked overtime to advance the impression that Michael Brown was a martyr and Officer Wilson a murderer. The effort would fail to generate a prosecution at the federal or state level, but more importantly, it succeeded as networking. Since that summer, the group has organized, by its count, at least a thousand rallies in localities across the nation. Driving this activity is online social media. Sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and most of all, Twitter, with their built-in youth appeal, have attracted large numbers of black followers. Organizers know that nothing succeeds in staging a media event quite like a hand-held smart phone.
Creating rallies is one thing; creating ideas is another. And what passes for ideas in this part of the world is less a coherent body of thought than an amalgam of theatrics, taunts and slogans. Common chants and placards at BLM rallies include “Black lives matter,” “Hands up, don’t shoot” (an utterance falsely attributed to Michael Brown just before his death), “White silence is violence,” “Is my son next?” and “No justice, no peace,” the latter expression being the tag line of Al Sharpton’s nonprofit National Action Network. Underscoring the fanaticism of Black Lives Matter is the vehement tone of its sense of mission. BLM explicitly has fashioned itself as a coalition (or “intersectionality”) of aggrieved far-Left groups, each making a contribution to a larger struggle against oppression. Much more than established black civil rights groups, it also places an emphasis on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) activism. Two its founders, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, in fact, are in-your-face, out-of-the-closet lesbians.
The BLM website makes its revolutionary purpose clear. Black Lives Matter, reads the site, is “a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of black people by police and vigilantes” and “affirms the lives of black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black undocumented folks, folks with records (i.e., criminal records), women, and all black lives along the gender spectrum.” Perhaps the most crystalline expression of BLM’s self-identification can be found in a guest contribution this past March by Ms. Garza in the webzine, The Feminist Wire. Superficially libertarian, Garza’s rhetoric was a ludicrous and barely grammatical cannon blast of far-Left agitprop:
When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgment Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgement that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country – one half of all people in prisons and jails – is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgement that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.
The sound and fury get worse:
Black queer and trans folks bearing a unique burden in a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of us like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes us and profits off us is state violence; the fact that 500,000 Black people in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows is state violence; the fact that Black girls are used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war is state violence; Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state-sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy is state violence. And the fact is that the lives of Black people – not ALL people – exist within these conditions is a consequence of state violence.
How can one debate such overwrought nonsense? The answer: It can’t be done. Black Lives Matter, defining itself by a bitter and unceasing alienation from American society, is incapable of communicating a thought without rendering it as an accusation or a threat. Everything must be seen through the lens of racial or gender oppression. Its leaders refuse to see life’s disappointments, at least as experienced by their base, as anything other than products of external injustice. Their primitive emotional appeals are inimical to any sort of reasoned negotiation.
In a better world, a group such as this would be ignored, or better still, laughed out of existence. Yet Black Lives Matter, far from being marginalized, has acquired a halo of infallibility to many in this country, including large numbers of whites. In large measure, this is the result of the powers of persuasion exerted by leading figures in politics, journalism, academia and other areas of public life, eager to give BLM a stamp of legitimacy. This translates into peer pressure. Naïve teenagers and young adults across the U.S., seeing their friends hop on the bandwagon, have done the same. Black Lives Matter has become their cause.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that much of our political class has endorsed Black Lives Matter. On October 22, at a White House discussion group on criminal justice reform, President Obama called upon participants to respect BLM. He explained: “We, as a society, particularly given our history, have to take (Black Lives Matter) seriously. One of the ways of avoiding the politics of this…is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African-American community is not just making this up.” Obama is not the only leading politician to express this sensibility. In December 2014, Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic presidential front runner, during her acceptance speech for an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, briefly veered from the script to declare: “Yes, black lives matter.” Her party rival, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, last July learned the hard way that Black Lives Matter activists are focused on blackness. Speaking at a Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, he was interrupted by dozens of black demonstrators who demanded he talk about police brutality. In response to their chant, “Black lives matter!,” O’Malley responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” This tepid rebuke didn’t go over well with the mob, which proceeded to boo and shout him down. Later that day, O’Malley apologized for his non-offense. “I meant no disrespect,” he said. “I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.” Another candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was even more obsequious. Last August, Sanders, having been disrupted by BLM activists at previous speeches, invited the group to open for him in Los Angeles. “There is no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism,” he told the crowd.
Local governments also are getting with the program. In December 2014, following the justifiable decision by a grand jury not to indict a New York City police officer for the July death in Staten Island of a black petty criminal, Eric Garner, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared “Black lives matter.” De Blasio cited centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. In point of fact, as I explained in my book, Sharpton: A Demagogue’s Rise, published by NLPC a year ago, there were good reasons not to indict. And last August, officials in Somerville, Mass. hung a banner in front of City Hall bearing the words “Black Lives Matter.” Mayor Joe Curtatone proudly announced he had worked with the BLM chapter in nearby Cambridge to create the banner.
Journalists also are lending legitimacy to Black Lives Matter. Washington Post blogger Jonathan Capehart, who is black, in a laudatory column this February 27 titled, “From Trayvon Martin to ‘Black Lives Matter,’” sounded off much like a BLM activist in denouncing police shootings of “unarmed” black persons. Capehart declared:
A tragically positive legacy of the killing of Trayvon Martin is that it began to open the nation’s eyes. That people of color are not ‘just making things up’ when it comes to the sometimes fatal racism, discrimination and suspicions they face. As a result, the chant of “black lives matter” is not the lament of a disaffected minority but the mantra of a nation awakened to and tired of the injustice and brutality faced by their fellow Americans.
In December 2014, meanwhile, Simon Vozick-Levinson, a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, listed out putative horror stories in an article, “Black Lives Matter: 11 Racist Police Killings with No Justice Served.” Terming the lack of grand jury indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner “outrageous failures of justice,” he proceeded to summarize “heartbreaking” examples of black victims of police murder. Every one of the narratives left out key facts, so as to give readers the impression that there is an ongoing epidemic in this country of renegade white cop murders.
The most prized media seal of approval can be found in Time magazine’s most recent (December 21, 2015) “Person of the Year” issue. Black Lives Matter made Number 4 on the short list of candidates – not enough to beat out the winner, Angela Merkel (“Chancellor of the Free World”), but pretty impressive all the same for a virtual rookie outfit. Authored by Alex Altman, the puffery wasn’t as effusive as it was in Rolling Stone, but it was evident:
In 2015, Black Lives Matter blossomed from a protest cry into a genuine political force. Groups that embraced the slogan hounded police chiefs from their jobs, won landmark prosecutions and turned college campuses in cauldrons of social ferment. At the University of Missouri, a hunger strike incited a boycott by the football team that drove the president out of office.
Altman, mind you, did not disapprove of these outcomes in the least. He writes later:
There are specific reasons Black Lives Matter has flourished where Occupy (Wall Street) fizzled…One is the way it has weaponized protest. Activists strategically shut down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on Black Friday and blocked traffic along Washington’s I-395 on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The demonstrations were chosen to maximize impact: causing discomfort is designed to make society feel the pain and frustration of living as a black person in America.
Altman views the menacing protests in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area following the police shooting death in the wee hours of November 15 of a black male, Jamar Clark, as pleas for justice. He recounts:
In mid-November demonstrators began gathering outside a Minneapolis police precinct to protest the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. The city was a tinderbox, and Nekima Levy Pounds, president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis chapter, worried about a spark. “We’re one incident away from becoming the next Ferguson,” Pounds told officials. A few days before Thanksgiving, alleged white supremacists were charged with spraying bullets into a crowd of demonstrators, injuring five.
But peace reigned. The throngs reassembled as they had done day after day since Clark’s death. Amid the bitter cold, the makeshift encampment became a kind of community, and each of the protestors found a role: bringing bread, sweeping the streets, stoking the fire pits. They held a concert and cooked a Thanksgiving dinner.
After 18 days of round-the-clock protests, Minneapolis officials dismantled the encampment around 4 A.M. on December 3. A crowd marched down to City Hall. There they flooded the rotunda, filling the halls of power with the sounds of protest, as they promised to keep showing up, day after day, until they felt justice was done.
It’s a heartrending story for those who enjoy such things, with or without a handkerchief. Unfortunately, Altman, in tapping into his inner Jonathan Kozol, managed to avoid informing readers that Jamar Clark, despite his young age, had amassed a felony record. He had received a 41-month prison sentence for first-degree aggravated robbery, though it is unclear if he served the full term. After his release, he was arrested again last year for making a terror threat against on-and-off girlfriend RayAnn Hayes; he’d thrown a brick through her window and threatened to burn down her apartment. He pleaded guilty in April. At his June 4 sentencing, he was given credit for time served and released. He was also given a 15-month stayed sentence, put on probation for five years, and given a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order. Mr. Clark did not take advantage of this gesture of leniency. On July 29, he was arrested after leading police on a high-speed chase in a stolen vehicle through a section of Minneapolis. Inside the car were two juveniles. He was placed in Hennepin County jail, but released on September 1.
Not long after, Jamar Clark would tempt fate once too often. It was between midnight and 1 A.M., November 15, at the intersection of James and Plymouth Avenues in Minneapolis near an apartment building. And Clark appeared to be up to no good. He and RayAnn Hayes had a violent fight inside the building following a birthday party. One of Hayes’ ankles was injured and possibly broken. She called paramedics. Two EMS personnel soon arrived on the scene. Spectators were gathering outside. Perhaps emboldened by the crowd, an agitated Clark, by now also outside, tried to block the paramedics from putting Hayes into the ambulance. The EMS personnel felt threatened enough to call “911” for police backup. Two cops, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, arrived from the 4th Precinct station, a few blocks away. Clark continued to be confrontational, refusing to remove his hands from his pockets when asked to do so. When Officer Ringgenberg attempted to place handcuffs on Clark, a scuffle ensued, with the cop taking Clark to the ground. Clark then tried to take Ringgenberg’s service revolver. The police report indicated Clark gained “physical control of the hand grip of the gun.” That’s called being armed. And after a brief interlude, Officer Schwarze shot Clark. Rushed to a local hospital, Clark died during the evening of November 16, less than 48 hours later. Several eyewitnesses claimed he was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground when shot, but their statements do not appear to withstand scrutiny. Schwarze’s lawyer, Frederic Bruno, said: “Mr. Clark was given multiple opportunities to desist. Instead, he chose to engage officers in a life-or-death struggle for an officer’s weapon. This event should have been a peaceful encounter. It was the actions and choices of Mr. Clark alone which determined his outcome.”
As for the “white supremicists” who sprayed bullets at a crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors on the night of November 23, injuring five and then fleeing the scene, one treads very lightly in offering any defense. Yet there a few salient points missing from the facile storyline offered by Time. First, BLM protestors were blocking the street in front of a police precinct station, and for good measure, had taken over the lobby. Far from being a peaceful assembly, this was a criminal act. Second, the three, at most four, counter-demonstrators on the scene were far more likely to have been motivated by frustration over the invasion of public space for collective racial aggrandizement than by any “supremacist” views they may have held. Third, one or more counter-demonstrators carried a gun to the scene because on some gut level they feared being assaulted. The police unlikely to protect them, much less arrest the invaders, the counter-protestors decided upon some do-it-yourself protection. (At least the cops eventually arrested two protestors for spray-painting messages on precinct walls). Fourth, the counter-demonstrators, vastly outnumbered by BLM occupiers, had been forcibly removed (i.e., assaulted) by several occupiers just prior to firing shots from a block away from the precinct house. It is indeed plausible they acted in self-defense. Two men were arrested for the gunfire on November 24 following a police investigation. Thus far, four men have been charged with incitement to riot, with one of them charged as well with second-degree assault. Guilty or not, however, it is impossible to make the case for Black Lives Matter as “nonviolent” in this sequence of events. To use Alex Altman’s words: They have weaponized protest.
A Hennepin County investigation has been ongoing since November and may take as long as four months to complete. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said at the time during a press conference that her office had requested a probe by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. However this case turns out, it is more than reasonable to say that Black Lives Matter activists could have acquainted themselves with certain material facts in the case before applying their usual sturm und drang. But patience is not a virtue in that part of the world. Operating on a default setting of “black victim, white oppressor,” BLM assumes such incidents are solely the doing of rogue cops, protected from accountability by “institutional” racism. Their methods are outrageous, but they have a certain logic. After all, the likelihood of arrest is small. And the likelihood of favorable publicity from political figures and the press is large. Moreover, Black Lives Matter activists know how to use Twitter and other social media at their disposal to demolish the reputations of critics.
Black Lives Matter is getting a free pass for its criminal disruptions because their members are black and their cause is blackness. Imagine if a group calling itself White Lives Matter were to engage in similar tactics. Far from getting the kid-gloves treatment, its leaders would be forced to genuflect in apology before the whole nation following their arrest. In the world of black civil rights, the whippersnappers who run Black Lives Matter have become the New Guard not in spite of their methods, but because of their methods. And they plan to make their presence known for a long time. National Legal and Policy Center is taking a much different view of Black Lives Matter, anticipating this article as the first in a series of articles on the organization. For BLM isn’t some garden-variety “protest group.” It is a genuine threat to public safety.
Black Lives Matter can be seen as a millennial generation reboot of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH. There is a certain irony here. BLM activists see Old Guard provocateurs like Sharpton and Jackson as having grown too accommodating toward white-run institutions. Yet these activists also are the Old Guard’s stepchildren, taking the time-tested tactics of their elders to a whole new level. At least a few blacks recognize this, and lament the fact. Journalist Jason Whitlock, writing in the aftermath of recent BLM protests at the University of Missouri that drove the president of its higher education system out of office, put it this way: “The more I see, the more I believe these (BLM) kids and their hipster friends, like Sharpton years ago, recognize the opportunity in trafficking dumbed-down racial crusades.” It’s time to confront these errant crusaders with inconvenient facts.