The Black Lives Matter movement, since its inception roughly two years ago after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has been a controversial force to say the least. Associated with chants of “Pigs in a blanket; Fry ‘em like bacon” and “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now,” as well as being perceived as associated with several acts of violence against police officers in recent years, the group exists as a threat to civilization itself in many Americans’ eyes. Recently, a petition to classify the group as a terrorist organization with over 140,000 signatures was sent to Washington. Even the name itself, which fails to mention the sanctity of the Lives of the 83% of Americans who are not Black, has rubbed many the wrong way.
While I am personally opposed to most of the demands made by the organization called Black Lives Matter (particularly their goals of acquiring reparations, abolishing charter and private schools, increasing education spending at the federal level, mandating cultural sensitivity courses at universities, requiring the demographics of police forces to be in proportion with the communities they patrol, allowing communities to decide punishment for police officers convicted of misconduct, eliminating bail and the use of past criminal history in sentencing, and their entire economic strategy and environmental platform), I do find some common ground with the group as well. We both want to end the disastrous War on Drugs, to eliminate egregious mandatory minimum sentences, and to scale back surveillance of Black communities (and all communities at that).
Of the policy proposals I disagree with, it is not because I want to punish or deprive the Black community, but because I believe their ideas are far more destructive and dangerous for everyone than helpful for anyone. I would love to see better education, improved policing, and economic development in the Black community, but I see their demands as coming loaded with unintended consequences for both the Black community and the rest of the country, particularly individuals from poorer economic backgrounds–regardless of race.
What I would instead suggest to Black Lives Matter is to simply adopt the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Yes, those documents were written by white males, most of whom owned Black slaves. It is my belief that human nature forces us to prefer inferior laws originated in our own names and identities to superior laws originated in the identities of others, so I understand that this would be a tough pill to swallow. Some of my ancestors date back to the colonization of what is now the USA, so I identify with the founders of our nation, and it is easier for me to support their philosophy. I acknowledge this wholly. But as a former Liberal Socialist who took a long, hard look in the mirror and discovered that my values and virtues were backwards, I think it is fair to say that I am not simply culturally-biased, but a true and well-reasoned believer in what I espouse. In my opinion, from an objective standpoint, if Black America can embrace the “self-evident truths” espoused in the Declaration and participate in making all of our individual Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property more secure, the long-term outcome would be paramount for all decent people.
A concept I’ve begun to develop by listening to Black Lives Matter and people of similar interest is that a large portion of the Black community believes that self-determination and self-governance are more important than safety. From a scientific standpoint, aggressive policing policies like “stop-and-frisk” and the “broken windows” strategy do indeed reduce murder and other crime rates, particularly those perpetrated against Black people. But as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Is it fair to assume that the Black community would prefer to put their Lives on the line as opposed to their Liberty? Do Black Lives matter as much as Black Liberty? As a man hell-bent on being free and moral myself, I would ultimately choose to die before being forced to live in a cage or an observation tank. Why should Black Americans feel any differently? That we are all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable Rights including Liberty is a self-evident truth, remember?
While this is likely to be disagreed with by Black Lives Matter on the whole, I believe that Black Lives already matter. We know the names of dozens of Black individuals who have been wrongly, questionably, and, most often, justifiably killed by police officers. But do we know the names of any of the over 700 white individuals killed by cops since the beginning of 2015? How about the names of any of the dozens of Hispanics to suffer the same fate?
Also consider much of America’s response to claims of institutionalized racism within our police forces. When Liberals cite the number of people who die at the hands of law enforcement, they are rebutted with overwhelmingly greater numbers of Blacks killed by other Blacks. Conservatives consistently cite the horrific violence experienced by Black Americans in urban areas like Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, clearly showing concern for the tragedy of massive and unnecessary loss of human Life, be it Black, White, or other. When Liberals and mainstream news outlets refuse to address this issue for fear of being politically incorrect, Conservatives shake their heads in frustration.
It is my view that the sanctity of Black Life is a non-issue that has been resolved. Black Lives matter in America. But does Black Liberty? Are White Americans unconcerned with self-governance for Black Americans? Are affluent Black Americans ignoring a potential yearning for freedom in the Black community too?
Frederick Douglass, a freed slave and Classical Liberal (akin to modern day Conservatives and Libertarians) who both adored and abided by the principles set forth by the American founders and criticized Christian Americans for their utter hypocrisy in owning slaves, said it best, so I’ll let him end this piece. The following is an excerpt from his brilliant essay titled “What Shall Be Done with the Slaves if Emancipated?” from 1862:
“Our answer is, do nothing with them; mind your business, and let them mind theirs. Your doing with them is their greatest misfortune. They have been undone by your doings, and all they now ask, and really have need of at your hands, is just to let them alone. They suffer by every interference, and succeed best by being let alone. The Negro should have been let alone in Africa—let alone when the pirates and robbers offered him for sale in our Christian slave markets— (more cruel and inhuman than the Mohammedan slave markets)—let alone by courts, judges, politicians, legislators and slavedrivers—let alone altogether, and assured that they were thus to be let alone forever, and that they must now make their own way in the world, just the same as any and every other variety of the human family. As colored men, we only ask to be allowed to do with ourselves, subject only to the same great laws for the welfare of human society which apply to other men, Jews, Gentiles, Barbarian, Sythian. Let us stand upon our own legs, work with our own hands, and eat bread in the sweat of our own brows. When you, our white fellowcountrymen, have attempted to do anything for us, it has generally been to deprive us of some right, power or privilege which you yourself would die before you would submit to have taken from you. When the planters of the West Indies used to attempt to puzzle the pureminded Wilberforce with the question, How shall we get rid of slavery? his simple answer was, “quit stealing.” In like manner, we answer those who are perpetually puzzling their brains with questions as to what shall be done with the Negro, “let him alone and mind your own business.” If you see him plowing in the open field, leveling the forest, at work with a spade, a rake, a hoe, a pickaxe, or a bill—let him alone; he has a right to work. If you see him on his way to school, with spelling book, geography and arithmetic in his hands—let him alone. Don’t shut the door in his face, nor bolt your gates against him; he has a right to learn—let him alone. Don’t pass laws to degrade him. If he has a ballot in his hand, and is on his way to the ballotbox to deposit his vote for the man whom he thinks will most justly and wisely administer the Government which has the power of life and death over him, as well as others—let him alone; his right of choice as much deserves respect and protection as your own. If you see him on his way to the church, exercising religious liberty in accordance with this or that religious persuasion—let him alone.—Don’t meddle with him, nor trouble yourselves with any questions as to what shall be done with him.”