Anyone doubting the influence of the loosely-knit band of demagogues known as Black Lives Matter probably wasn’t at the White House last Thursday, where President Obama met with black leaders to discuss race, crime and policing. Among the attendees were Al Sharpton, National Urban League President Marc Morial, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Black Lives Matter activists DeRay McKesson and Brittany Packnett (in photo, left). Obama invited McKesson and Packnett as a gesture to young blacks. Their inclusion underscores the summit’s unspoken assumption: White lives don’t matter.
National Legal and Policy Center early in January described the origins and motives of Black Lives Matter (BLM). The group was launched in July 2013 by three black female community activists in the immediate wake of a wholly justified decision by a Florida trial jury not to convict a white neighborhood crime patrol volunteer, George Zimmerman, for murder in the self-defense shooting death of a black teenaged attacker, Trayvon Martin. In short order, Black Lives Matter has rewritten the rules of racial agitprop. Having learned the lessons of the maestros, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, the organization, now with nearly 30 chapters nationwide, has applied those lessons at hundreds of inflammatory protests in cities and on college campuses. The intent is to punish acts of “white racism.”
Black Lives Matter has no official headquarters, no building to call its own. The decentralized group frames its appeal mainly to young blacks, who though easily manipulated, are adept at navigating social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BLM played a central role in organizing and escalating street protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the August 2014 fatal shooting of a local 18-year-old, Michael Brown, at the hands of a white police officer, Darren Wilson. Evidence overwhelmingly showed that Brown, far from being an “unarmed” gentle giant shot from behind while attempting to surrender, had tried to murder Officer Wilson. That’s why a grand jury did not indict Wilson. Having heard extensive testimony and reviewed countless documents and photos for three months, members realized there was nothing to prosecute. Al Sharpton, having visited St. Louis to rouse the rabble, saw his “peacemaking” efforts go for naught. Certain protestors did more than simply make their views known. They also rioted. At one rally in March 2015, just as things were about to break up, a protestor, supposedly “not with the group,” shot and wounded two cops.
In a real sense, Black Lives Matter can be seen as “Sharpton 2.0.” Its weapon of choice is the smart phone. And its members are gearing up for battle. They are convinced that blacks in America are facing extermination. This is paranoid nonsense, but it isn’t that different from statements made by Sharpton and his peers over the decades. As evidence, BLM activists regularly cite the recent deaths of young blacks such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant and Freddie Gray during police apprehensions. Yet in each of these cases, an assertion of murder at the hands of a white collapsed under the weight of fabrications and/or omissions. Unable or willing to apply cause-and-effect reasoning, Black Lives Matter members insist upon the arrest and conviction of white police officers on the flimsiest of pretexts. These activists cannot accept facts that contradict their overarching narrative of “white oppressor, black victim.” Their application of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in a criminal case apparently only applies when the defendant is black; if the defendant is white, all bets are off. Racial loyalty, not evidence, is what matters. Black Lives Matter leaders claim they are trying to defuse police-community tensions. In reality, they are lighting matches to a powder keg.
If the tactics of Black Lives Matter seem more menacing than those employed by established black activists, the views of each are quite similar. It therefore makes sense that just as mainstream black protestors have won friends in high places, so has BLM. Some of these friends are generous. This February 5, hip-hop recording artist/entrepreneur Jay Z announced that he would donate $1.5 million from the proceeds of an October concert sponsored by his music streaming service, Tidal, to more than a dozen “social justice” organizations, Black Lives Matter among them. That’s small change compared to the $33 million that multibillionaire financier George Soros, through his Open Society Foundations, gave during a recent 12-month period to various radical groups, including BLM, that in some way played a role in Ferguson street protests. While Soros reportedly was dissatisfied with the manner in which some of that money was spent, from the start he has believed in the protestors’ goals. That is why the Soros-funded Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), a rebranded branch of the now-defunct ACORN, managed to cut monthly $5,000 checks to protest organizers.
Black Lives Matter also has acquired something potentially more valuable than money over the long run: political access. Being an insider rather than remaining an outsider can yield enormous benefits. That’s why two BLM activists, DeRay McKesson and Brittany Packnett, were in attendance at the White House confab last Thursday, along with about a dozen other invited black public figures. They were there to make an impact on President Obama and his top adviser-confidante, Valerie Jarrett. In addition to Al Sharpton and others cited earlier, participants included NAACP President Cornell Brooks, NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, University of Missouri student organizer DeShaunya Ware, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Wade Henderson. The event, a prelude to the annual White House gala celebration of Black History Month, gave McKesson and Packnett, both in their early 30s, an opportunity to vent. A Chicago-based Black Lives Matter activist, Aislinn Pulley, also was invited but refused to attend, believing the event was a “false narrative” that would merely provide a sound bite for the president. The meeting, she huffed, would deflect energy away from expressing solidarity with black freedom fighters.
Actually, Ms. Pulley would have felt right at home at the summit meeting, held in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. President Obama sought ideas from attendees on such subjects as police-community relations, criminal justice, voting rights, and an appropriate successor to recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The meeting amounted to a sneak preview of where the administration wants to go during its remaining months. Ms. Packnett explained to Time magazine: “We had a conversation that lasted over 90 minutes. The president actually extended himself because he wanted to continue to conversation. We had a lot of opportunity to elevate various strategies that are happening on the ground as far as criminal justice reform, working on police violence, and systemic educational inequities.” In other words, it was standard Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson boilerplate. And nobody was around to offer dissent. That was the way it was planned.
Packnett, a self-described educator, already has had a taste of access to the top. She served on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, whose final report, released last May, proposed ways to defuse tensions between police and black residents. As for DeRay McKesson, like Packnett, an educator – he’s a Teach for America alumnus and a former school administrator – early this month he declared himself a candidate for mayor of Baltimore. He’s young and inexperienced. And the field is crowded, with fully 29 candidates. But winning isn’t out of the question. McKesson is a Baltimore native. He has name recognition. And given the contents of his 26-page platform, it’s fair to say he is very much in synch with the city’s black majority. McKesson is nearly silent about the explosive rise in murders in his city in the aftermath of last April’s riot, yet he exercises little restraint in denouncing police who protect Baltimore from violent criminals. In addition to being a Black Lives Matter organizer, he also is the co-founder of a group known as Campaign Zero whose tag line is “We can end police violence in America.” As much as it’s hard to justify another term for the current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (understandably not running for re-election), McKesson, a full-time professional agitator, might make things worse.
After the meeting broke up, President Obama praised the event as a necessary step toward black self-empowerment. “There’s no better way for us to celebrate Black History Month,” he said. He expressed particular gratitude toward the youth contingent; i.e., Black Lives Matter:
Overall, what I am most encouraged by is the degree of focus and seriousness and constructiveness that exists not only with existing civil rights organizations, but this new generation. They are some serious young people. I told them that they are much better organizers than I was at their age, and I am confident that they are going to take America to new heights. My job is just to make sure that I’m listening to them and learning from them a little bit.
There is nothing surprising here. Obama long has held that racial inequality is very much a function of white injustice. As his tenure winds down, he has made this view more explicit, especially given the extensive criticism he has received from blacks over the years for “not doing enough.” And he has taken action lately. In February 2014, he launched an interagency initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, to steer young “men of color” away from crime. Last year, after hearing complaints from women who felt excluded, he pledged $100 million for at-risk women and girls of color. Say this for Obama: He’s inclusive.
President Obama has a partner in the Department of Justice, especially with respect to the ongoing Ferguson, Missouri saga. The DOJ, having issued an essentially worthless study last March alleging anti-black bias by Ferguson police and courts, filed a 56-page lawsuit on February 10 alleging the City of Ferguson since then has engaged in “ongoing and pervasive” violations of the rights of black suspects. The City Council the previous day had rejected a proposed DOJ consent decree that would have put the City police and court under virtual receivership. “Residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights – the rights guaranteed to all Americans – for decades,” remarked Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Underlying this elevated rhetoric, with its affectation of color-blind reasonableness, is a desire to compensate for the DOJ’s admitted inability to stick Officer Darren Wilson with civil rights “hate crime” charges.
Some people might defend the White House summit as simply a fact-finding mission. If so, the mission was rather monochromatic and one-sided. Its guiding assumption, that the main impediment to black progress is “institutional” (i.e., white) racism, went unchallenged. In the current age of mandated favoritism toward blacks, known alternately as “affirmative action” and “diversity,” a challenge would have been welcome. A real fact-finding mission, for example, would have invited at least one cop to the table talk. It also would have emphasized that police, especially if white, cannot effectively enforce the law if they greatly fear prosecution, a lawsuit, public vilification or death in an attempt to arrest a black suspect. The meeting further could have benefited from input from crime victims – such as business owners in Ferguson whose premises were torched in November 2014 by Black Lives Matter-inspired rioters following a grand jury’s announcement that it would not indict Officer Wilson. Such aspiring participants will have to wait for another day.