This month, we’ve suffered the loss of several law enforcement officers unjustly killed in the line of duty. On May 9, Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate were killed during a traffic stop in Mississippi. On May 2, NYPD officer Brian Moore was shot in the head and died from the injury a couple of days later. Both these tragedies bring to mind the double homicide of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Dec. 20, 2014, a shocking act that was nearly universally condemned. And it’s wrong to suggest — as many do via social media — that those who support the “Black Lives Matter” movement don’t care about cops unjustly killed.
The hashtag #BlueLivesMatter (which sprung into existence in the fall of 2014, as a response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri) is unsettling both because of the controversial nature of the movement’s title (i.e. the erasure of “black” for “blue”) and also because of the fact that it states the obvious and unquestionable: of course blue lives matter. Unlike black lives, blue lives are both valued and mourned. When a cop is killed, the murderer is sought and convicted — as is just. However, when a cop unjustly kills a black man, he’s much less likely to be convicted (unless there is an accompanying video, and sometimes not even then — e.g. Eric Garner).
Of course, cops have a dangerous job, are afraid, and are right to be afraid — not of people of color, but of being shot. In 2013, 32 cops were fatally shot; in 2014, 50 cops were fatally shot. The number jump seems alarming, although NPR’s Eyder Peralta points out “While gun deaths of officers have increased, they still remain 12-percent lower than the decade-long average of 57.”
Still, we have a gun problem and need sensible gun control reform. One cop unjustly killed in the line of duty is one cop too many. Last year, while the debate was raging over Michael Brown’s death, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias argued that we should find common ground over the fact that we need gun control reform; he said, “This is true if you think Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson should have been found guilty of a crime. But in many ways it’s even more true if you think he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.”
The rub? So many people who rally behind the “Blue Lives Matter” slogan are against gun control. They complain, instead, about a “war on police” and say that gun control reform is “off topic” rather than a sensible solution to a triad of problems: violence against the police, violence by the police, and violence against the community at large — including our most vulnerable: children. CDC statistics list 16,121 homicides in 2013, and 11,208 of those were with guns. Too many guns is absolutely relevant to any discussion about the safety of law enforcement officers — and public safety to boot. And while I’m concerned about any way kids are dying, 10,000 American kids a year are injured and/or killed with guns and those are preventable injuries and deaths. Finally, holding police accountable is not a “war on police.” It’s holding police accountable.
This past December, a meme was circulating in response to 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death. I first saw the meme on Facebook from an avid supporter of “Blue Lives Matter.” It features a man holding two nearly identical guns, accompanied by the phrase “quick! which one is a bb gun? Oops, too late . . . you’re dead.”
The person posting it was defending the cop who shot Tamir Rice, not pointing out the fact that maybe the NRA shouldn’t be blocking legislation like California’s Senate Bill 798 that would require not-real guns (air gun, airsoft and BB) to be distinguishable (as in brightly colored) from real guns.
Four hundred and nine people were fatally shot by cops in 2012, according to The Economist, some of them children. And that’s a problem for everyone: the dead people; the families of the dead people; and the cops, some of whom have to live with inadvertently killing unarmed kids. Think that’s just what happens? Number of shots fired by police in Britain that same year? THREE. Number of fatalities? ZERO. More recent tallies suggest that the number of people fatally shot by cops each year in the United States is even higher, as many go uncounted.
No one is defending violence against the police. I spoke out against the Dec. 20 homicides, just like I spoke out about Walter Scott’s and Freddie Gray’s deaths. Too many people in the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, on the other hand, are fearful of violence against their community while excusing violence perpetrated against those outside their community. And that’s wrong.
What’s also wrong? To assert that blue lives matter while failing to advocate for gun control reform that would actually save blue lives.
Brian Moore was shot to death with a gun stolen from Georgia, a gun lover’s paradise. As NY Daily News reporters explain: “Georgia’s lax gun laws are often cited by critics for the steady northern flow of illegal weapons to New York. Straw buyers purchasing firearms for people who can’t legally own guns face no penalty, and there are no background checks for people buying guns from unlicensed dealers. A bill passed last year even repealed the state regulation targeting rogue gun dealers convicted of criminal or fraudulent actions. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stats from 2013, the most recent available, showed 331 weapons recovered in New York State originated in Georgia that year.”
I can hear the tired “gun rights” arguments now that essentially boil down to:
I don’t want to be inconvenienced when buying my gun — despite the fact that, for the sake of public safety, buying guns should be at least as difficult as having a pet (many cities require you to register dogs) or driving a car (think: testing, licensing, registering, servicing, renewing).
I don’t want to be restricted from buying military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, because (2nd Amendment!) I need to be prepared to overthrow the government in case it becomes tyrannical — despite the fact that we have an unmatched military and arsenal of weapons (against which neither assault weapons nor high capacity magazines stand a chance) and despite the fact that we support our troops.
In the end, what is the purpose of asserting “Blue Lives Matter” (except in opposition to “Black Lives Matter,” which — let’s face it — seems to be the purpose) if the only “solution” is to allow police full discretion in killing civilians, which is unacceptable? What is the purpose of asserting that we support our troops, if we’re simultaneously daydreaming about fighting against them?
Of all the comments in response to Freddie Gray’s death, and I’ve read a lot of them, this may be the most hypocritical of the bunch:
The implication is that Freddie Gray carried a knife and therefore should have expected a violent end (never mind the fact that, as a country, we’re one big sword-wielding maniac — and 20 times more likely to be a victim of gun violence than citizens of other first world countries because of it). It’s time for gun buyback programs and more sensible regulation, because it’s time for a real and decent solution that supports all: cops and our communities.
You say: blue lives matter. I say: you’re right; they do; let’s do something about that.