There’s a curious new phenomenon in which, if you don’t say that “black lives matter,” you’re part of the problem.
I don’t particularly get it, either. CNN says that “[t]he distinction between saying ‘black lives matter’ and ‘all lives matter’ has emerged as something of a cultural dividing line amid the nationwide discussion about racial equality that has been touched off in recent weeks.”
My personal feeling is that both are truisms, but I’d be willing to say either. That being said, there’s a political import behind both of them — in particular the first, for reasons we’ll get to anon.
Anyhow, a Philadelphia ABC affiliate sprang this question on Vice President Mike Pence during an interview Friday. The subtext, of course, was that if Pence didn’t say it, he didn’t believe black lives actually mattered.
Pence didn’t take the bait.
“Let me just say that what happened to George Floyd was a tragedy,” Pence told WPVI-TV in Philadelphia on the question of saying “black lives matter.”
“And in this nation, especially on Juneteenth, we celebrate the fact that from the founding of this nation we’ve cherished the ideal that all, all of us are created equal, and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And so all lives matter in a very real sense.”
WPVI anchor Brian Taff continued to try to get those three words words out of him.
“Forgive me for pressing you on this, sir,” he said, “but I will note you did not say those words, ‘black lives matter,’ and there is an important distinction.”
“People are saying, of course all lives matter, but to say the words is an acknowledgment that black lives also matter at a time in this country when it appears that there’s a segment of our society that doesn’t agree,” Taff said. “So why will you not say those words?”
Pence was unruffled.
“Well, I don’t accept the fact, Brian, that there’s a segment of American society that disagrees, in the preciousness and importance of every human life,” Pence said. “It’s one of the reasons why, as we advance important reforms in law enforcement, as we look for ways to strengthen and improve public safety in our cities, we’re not going to stop there.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an administration that saw the lowest unemployment ever recorded for African-Americans. We saw the creation of thousands of opportunity zones that are generating billions of dollars in investment to our cities.”
Pence also noted the Trump administration’s commitment to education, including funding for historically black colleges and universities and its backing for school choice.
“We’re absolutely determined to improve the lives of our African-American citizens with more job opportunities, more educational opportunities. And this administration will remain committed doing what we’ve been doing all along.”
But Taff apparently was only listening for three words and not anything else.
“And yet, one final time, you won’t say the words and we understand your explanation,” he said, before moving along.
Meanwhile, here’s what Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors had to say about Trump/Pence when interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper:
President “Trump not only needs to not be in office in November but he should resign now,” says co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Patrisse Cullors. “Trump needs to be out of office. He is not fit for office.” pic.twitter.com/T6mLZ11cEv
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) June 19, 2020
“Trump not only needs to not be in office in November, but he should resign now,” said Cullors.
“Trump needs to be out of office. He is not fit for office. And so what we are going to push for is a move to get Trump out. While we’re also going to continue to push and pressure Vice President Joe Biden around his policies and relationship to policing and criminalization. That’s going to be important. But our goal is to get Trump out.”
In short, Black Lives Matter is now an explicitly political movement rather than a social cause aimed at drawing attention to police-minority relations. And it’s a political movement with a stated aim of removing the president Pence serves.
Yet some members of the media are expecting Pence to pay it the homage of saying its name out loud?
Now, should Americans expect “Black Lives Matter” to mean the same thing now that it did when Cullors co-founded the loose movement more than half a decade ago? Not necessarily. Political and social movements evolve like anything else.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Americans must accept the proposition that anyone who is unwilling to accept the current goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that anyone who is unwilling to say “black lives matter” aloud, is a covert racist.
There’s something in the three-word construct more than simple opposition to police brutality. Part of it, at least in contexts like the Taff interview, is getting the vice president to admit a certain degree of complicity. He refused to do so.
Rather, in terms of opposition to police brutality, Pence was clear about his take on police reform:
“We’re not going to defund the police, but rather, we’re going to fund new resources to law enforcement to raise the standards for the use of force for de-escalation, to make it possible to deploy personnel, social workers who can deal with challenging situations, people that are trained in dealing with homelessness, to prevent the kind of incident that we saw that take place,” he said. “And we’re encouraged by the fact that Senator Tim Scott and others in the Congress are moving forward.”
Taff’s “black lives matter” pestering wasn’t journalism by any normal standard.
It was a cheap attempt by a sub-“Anchorman”-level local news guy to get a few minutes of media glory. I suppose I’m playing into this by giving Ron Burgundy attention but, well, the response is pitch-perfect for this kind of trap.
“It’s not a choice between law enforcement and our African-American community,” Pence said. “This is really a choice between supporting law enforcement and supporting and improving the lives of our African-American families and our cities, and we’re committed to doing just that.”
It might help if Trump’s critics listened to that.
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