^ First Amendment in action, yes. But what, exactly, do these protesters want ?
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More than two months have passed since the current wave of “black lives matter” protest began. The movement is said to be the largest ever in our history. Maybe so, although I recall that Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement was quite large and enormous. However, it is not my purpose to measure but to ask two questions : what, precisely, is the “black lives matter” movement trying to achieve ? What, if anything, CAN it achieve, if all goes well ?
It was easy to understand Martin Luther King’s movement. He and his helpers, followers, and supporters wanted things promised in writing in the Constitution : full voting rights and laws to enforce of the “privileges and immunities” guaranteed to all citizens by the express language of the 14th Amendment. The 15th Amendment gave Congress full power to enforce these guarantees by legislation. The King movement asked Congress to pass that legislation.
You could read everything that King and his million followers asked for. It was nothing that any of us has not asked for. The “black lives matter” protest hasn’t the same certainty. Its objectives are vague and not written down. I’ll have more to say about that later.
The King movement had its leader, and a very special leader he was. A minister of God; always dressed Sunday best; dedicated strictly to nonviolence; and, a speaker of rare power, who used the words of our founding documents just as Frederick Douglass before him had done. King — and not only King but also A Philip Randolph, Medgar Evers, Charles Evers, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, and the late John Lewis — controlled the moral high ground, the political ideal, and the confrontations : and when beaten, imprisoned, and even murdered, Americans could not help but say that it was wrong what was being done against them. Opponents had only one option : explicit Jim Crow.
King’s movement was also sectional. He confronted the South only. People were reminded of the Civil War, which all of us knew and understood — fought and won by the rest of the country now overwhelmingly more numerous and powerful than the eleven states of the old Confederacy.
Yet despite all the advantages that the King movement possessed and made full use of, and even accounting his and his cohorts’ dignity, Constitutionalism, eloquence, and numbers, it still took a President of the United States, willing to split his party, to get through Congress a Voting Rights bill and a Civil Rights Act, each with enforcement teeth, that already had major support in both House and Senate.
The “black lives matter” movement’s links to the Constitution that we all swear to are “equal protection of the laws” and “due process of law” — guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Then what of it ? Objection is made that our nation’s police departments do not give citizens of color equal protection; they discriminate and give citizens of color pressures that they don’t put upon others. That’s the case being argued.
Viral videos certainly make the police in them look bad, ready to discard the protections that we all have a right to demand, or to blunder grossly, as happened to Breoma Taylor. Yet even the worst of those viral videos — and the one involving George Floyd and officer Chauvin is terrible to watch — seem anecdotal rather than outcomes of a policy of Jim Crow. No one has established that any police department, or any city authority, has a policy of treating citizens of color more harshly, on purpose, than they treat others. I am readily convinced that some police have that sort of racial animus, and that city authorities knowingly tolerate it. Yet that is an assumption on my part, as it it is on the part of protesters.
(Note — I wrote “protesters.” By “protesters” I mean peaceable protesters exercising First Amendment guarantees. Vandals., looters, highway blockers, car jackers, arsonists, muggers, and combat rioters confuse a movement that cannot afford to be trapped. Let’s not let them trap us.)
We’ll talk now about the protest itself :
( 1 ) It badly needs eminent leadership. I speak not of wealthy athletes and Hollywood celebrities but of civic and religious leaders. Where is this movement’s Martin Luther King? Its Charles Evers ? Its John Lewis ?
( 2 ) It MUST act as the King movers acted: dress in Sunday best, practice nonviolence, and protest IN THE DAYTIME, not under darkness of night.
( 3 ) It must have a specific, legislative objective that everyone can buy into. “F the police’ chants won’t do, indeed they alienate. Disband the police is not going to happen, and even calls to defund the police aren’t going anywhere except in a few very left-political cities. Police reform is, however, on the table. Be specific and practical. Win police support for it. Many police chiefs urge it. Why not accommodate them ?.
( 4 ) The movement MUST address Black on Black city crime. A shock-jock podcaster, Gillie da Kid, citing the hundreds of shootings in Chicago as one example,, says “Black lives ain’t gonna matter until they start mattering to Black people !” He is right. In some cities, strong Dads and Role Model movements began arising long before George Floyd. The movement should embrace these action groups and bring their leaders forward.
I emphasize this because the main reason why police departments put so much police presence into majority Black city neighborhoods — what protesters call “over-policing” — is because people who live in those neighborhoods are scared, and angry, hearing gun shots all the time, and they call 911. A lot. Moreover, police sometimes overreact because they have every reason to fear whenever they make a stop or an arrest in neighborhoods whose worst side is what they see so much of.
( 5 ) The movement must clearly reject the criminals. It must shut them out, policing itself. It can do this. It has security people and can deploy them to fend off the outlaws. Nothing I know of will win the movement more support from ordinary people than its shoving the outlaws away for good.
( 6 ) The movement must win the support of Black police officers. It isn’t going anywhere if it views them as the enemy.
( 7 ) the movement cannot have a marxist agenda.
( 8 ) the phrase “black lives matter” implies that to an unspecified group or number, they don’t matter. Who is being thus accused ? Name them.
( 9 ) the movement might well fail, given its lack of leadership and absence of a specific, achievable objective. It can also fail for not making common cause with the entire nation, as the King movement did. The movement cannot say “if you’re not Black, you don’t understand. The rest of us HAVE TO BE INVITED IN. It cannot be about being Black.
So far, the movement — much wrapped up in congratulating itself — enveloped by Black, Black, Black — seems not to imagine failure or to care much about the consequences.
Lastly, “black lives matter” has to mean more than an admonition to police departments. It should embrace self-improvement initiatives and — above all — social integration. As long as most people who are not Black interact rarely with people who are Black, each will readily see the other as “other” and be a bit uncomfortable about it. Uncomfortable doesn’t make for a healthy social com[pact ! If we can’t alleviate social segregation, legal reforms will always lack solid foundation in community custom.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere